The Power of One

My Column for The Elgin Review 10.7.2020

Sometimes all it takes is one person to restore another person’s belief in humanity.

Mike and I are just back from a two-week vacation in the Black Hills. Our plan was to hang out in a beautiful place and keep away from other people as much as possible to avoid the risk of COVID-19. It mostly worked except when we took the 1880’s train from Hill City to Keystone round trip.

Mike’s a train buff. His dad worked on the Union Pacific when Mike was little. Mac died when Mike was fourteen so early memories of riding the rails with him are especially fond. We stopped by the station where signs were posted to stay six feet apart. Sanitizer stations marked the entrances. Plexiglass shields protected souvenir buyers from sales folk and vice-verse.  Comfortable that precautions were in place, Mike ordered our tickets.

Before the conductor yelled, “all aboard” and the engine let out its’ distinctive first “whoosh” of steam, I was already steamed. We were surrounded by people without masks, standing too close to each other on the platform. When we boarded the train, the windows were closed against the chill of the day. On our car every seat was full and only two other couples wore masks. Grandma and grandson wore theirs onto the train, but when they sat down two feet in front of us, they took them off.

The scenery was breathtaking, but I was holding mine (well, trying to) that whole first hour. When we stepped onto the platform in Keystone while the engine switched to the other end of the train to make the return trip, once we were finally socially distant from others, my first words to Mike were,

“I hate people.”

“Oh, Becky. That’s not true. You, of all people, do not hate people.”

I assured my beloved, “Oh, indeed I do.”

“How hard is it to err on the side of caution and wear a mask?” I snapped.

“I hate people.”

Back on the train for the return trip, I was by the window and I opened it despite the chill. With air whooshing in I felt safer.

At the first crossing out of the Keystone station, a lanky young man with a buck-toothed grin in a floppy hat stood outside a white van and waved with great enthusiasm as the train passed. I and others waved back. Surprisingly, the same man stood waving at the next crossing and the next. The older man, at the wheel inside the van, waved too. Fourteen crossings, more than an hour of driving and stopping for the same train. Fourteen times, the young man with the grin and special needs, waved and shared his grin with us. The older man (his dad?) had the route down pat. Perfectly timed. They’d done this routine a gazillion times before. The old man racing the train, stopping and parking again and again and again so the young man could wave and grin as we rode by. 

I wept a little and whispered to Mike,

“I don’t hate people anymore.”

**

If you’ve soured on your fellow humans, if you find yourself wondering where’s the good in this world, I hope you’ll find your way to worship with us at Park Congregational Church ten miles west of Elgin on Highway 70 and ½ mile south where God has never failed to show up to show us self-giving love every time we gather. Worship is at 9:15.

I love hearing from you. My email is beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “The Power of One

  1. That was just beautiful. I was on that ride with you. The beauty of the land. Hating people right along with you and then tears. Beautiful. There’s always something to lift us back up if we let it. Love you And miss you!!! Love Kelly

    Sent from my iPhone

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