Train journeys sometimes bring wonderful moments. As did this morning’s..
I was sitting opposite this lady, well in her sixties, who was reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion’. It caught my eye. Not only because of the book itself and my interest in the topic, but the lady bore every sign that she was not exactly what you call an evident reader for this sort of literature. Or maybe she was.
I know these are only external sings and I am certainly not one for judging people and their values on their exterior.
I myself was reading an article on the discussion between ‘continental and analytical philosophy’. One certain moment I wanted to check a reference made in the article. I grabbed Critchely’s ‘Introduction to Continental Philosophy’ from my bag.
At that moment the lady looked up and asked me firmly: ‘ Why are you reading this?’ ‘Because it is my believe that I need to build my knowledge on what I can perceive.’ She smiled, looking me in the eye, and replied : ‘And I believe that this is the right way to go about it.’
So I asked her for her reasons for reading what she was, upon which she told me how she recently lost one of her dearest sisters and that the hurt it caused was difficult to compliment with the life she leads. She was a nun. So my hunch was right when I saw her typically short hair. The sort of hidden apron underneath her coat and a black piece of string tucked away in her jumper.
It had become impossible for her in this period of loss and grieve to find consolation in the believes she upholds and so she started exploring other explanations of which she knew they existed but never had come her way. And she wanted to explore all perspectives so she could make a profound decision of what she would do with the rest of her live.
I was stunned. Here I was talking to a woman who was on the verge of saying goodbye to all the moral standards she ever believed in and creating a set of new ones for herself.
‘And how about your life?’ she wanted to know. I sighed and shared with her the step I just took to give up work and to go back to university again.’ ‘Judging by what you are reading, you have made an excellent choice. And why do you want to learn about the views I am doubting’, she continued. I just sat there looking at her in awe.
The only thing I could think of at that time was that I did this because I like to have a broader perspective on the essential issues in live. I want to know what to disagree upon so that the knowledge I have can evolve and become stronger and more stable.
‘How wonderful that we should encounter one another on this train’, I said hesitantly. ‘Is it?’ she said with an almost certainness. ‘From the side of the book yóu are reading we are predestined to have stepped on this train. It is faith that brought us here. From the side from the book I am reading it is no coincidence we are fascinated by the same questions in life, it is no coincidence that we make the choices we think to make but it ís a coincidence that we both caught this train.’ A little almost naughty smile appeared on her face.
When I asked her if her congregation knew that she was doing all this research she just said she chooses to keep it quiet and that by not telling she feels the drive to move on and gain more knowledge’.
She closed her book and gave it to me. I told her I could not really accept it and that I already had a copy.
‘I heard you before!’, she said in a short tone of voice – you know the one we all too often attribute to ‘nuns’- ‘I want you to have it anyway. It symbolises the journey we make, on the train and in this life. It stands for your believes and when in doubt remember this knowledge.’
I was and still am moved to tears.
I arrived at my stop. I reached out to shake her hand and for a brief moment, when our hands touched there was this all meaningful squeeze. A sort of one-second-clinging-on-to…
On to what ? Each other ? The mutual understanding ? The respect ?
I wished her a wise decision, she whished me a good life.