I just finished a book written by a man who loved railways. He memorized timetables and went to stations to admire the great engines brought by the industrial revolution. His home was Scotland and in the first chapter of his memoir he described a route from Waverly station in Edinburgh to Kings cross in London. It instantly brought me back to the moment I road a train on that same route. I remember passing the lush landscape dotted with sheep. It was magical.
Later, when he was still a green 20-something, the thing he loved would become the thing to break him. During WWII, he was captured and became a prisoner of war. Him and all the other POWs were forced to build a train near Burma in near impossible terrain. They were starved and beaten until they could almost touch death.
During his moments of dark pain, he wrote poems:
At the beginning of time the clock struck one
Then dropped the dew and the clock struck two
From the dew grew a tree and the clock struck three
The tree made a door and the clock struck four
Man came alive and the clock struck five
Count not, waste not the years on the clock
Behold I stand at the door and knock.
He drew a map, it was found, and he was tortured. In 1945, the war ended and the train he was brutally forced to build with other POWs was never completed. It became a wasteland from war.
His poem is in print because he survived and lived until 93. His steam engine strength pulled him into old age, but the nightmare of a war stayed with him.
The beautiful part of his story is his path to reconciliation. Later in life he would befriend the man who was the liaison between him and the torturer who filled his lungs with water.
Sometimes I run with a steely determination like the engines crafted during the industrial revolution. Once I took an off the beaten path and found train tracks. I wanted to follow them, but thought it might be dangerous and illegal. I turned around and kept running through the Pisgah National forest, but the quiet presence of the tracks peeking through the trues stuck to my mind. Now when I think about those tracks, I think of Eric Lomax and the risk he took in drawing a rail map.
Trains don’t stop the way time always ticks away on the clock.
I spend many hours running. I’m still not sure what I am running from, but I know I am running into something so much bigger than myself. Eric Lomax kept going, even after it felt like the clock was wound back time and time again from the memories plaguing his mind. He is the bravest soldier, not because of how he fought flesh and blood, but rather because of the way he fought powers and principalities of darkness trying to rule this world.
Following the train tracks would lead me somewhere new with certainty. Trains stay true to the tracks they ride on because their great engines are always propelling forward. Even when we don’t know where we are going, we will be ok when we hold onto steam engine strength and stay on track.