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Repairing Life's Railroads, One Track at a Time

(painting by Flora Valle @floravalleart)

Henry David Thoreau, in his book, Walden, reflects on the train tracks that snuggled up to his dwelling in the woods. From his remote abode, Thoreau would walk to the village, alongside this causeway. He tells us that the men of the freight train, taking him for an employee, often bowed to him like an old acquaintance. He ruminates: I too would fain be a track repairer somewhere in the orbit of the earth.

Like Thoreau, I also took to daydreaming about trains. Just imagine being a track repairer, whose chief duty is repairing the broken tracks that weave and splinter this world. Where would you even begin? There must be countless tracks in need of repair or replacement.

But why not try? Why not be men and women of the freight train? Why not help repair the things that break this world, one track at a time? You wouldn’t have to repair the whole thing, just the strip that lays along your footing.

Thoreau loved the whistling sound of the locomotive. Who doesn't? Perhaps you remember, lying in bed as a child, hearing that nostalgic sound. Though subtle, perhaps the cherished sound is something that has connected many. Just as we can simultaneously witness a full moon, maybe the whistle of a train is something that also connects us. This, regardless of circumstance or position in life. Could that whistle remind us of our indiscriminate tie?

On a recent Sunday, I reflected more on the train whistle and the moon. As I pondered, I took notice of another thing that connects many of us living on the west coast, Pacific Coast Highway. PCH is one of America's most famous highways. It hugs over 600 miles of California coastline.

Coincidentally, on that same Sunday I embarked on some goodwill, along PCH. I finally did something I had been wanting to do for some time. With my son’s help, I assembled care packages for the unhoused. Adam and I stocked large freezer bags with some essentials: face mask, wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, couple of snacks, water and a pack of gum. I decided that we should make it a point to distribute at least 5 bags that afternoon. We drove along PCH, in Long Beach, to hand out packages. We literally only drove about a half mile, before we were out of packages.

Just as countless coffee shops, restaurants, beach houses and signal lights line PCH, I wonder how many people in need also pepper this highway.

Like train tracks, we all have potential to break. There have been times when life has derailed my hopes and dreams, breaking my heart and spirits. We are all passengers aboard life's bumpy locomotive. Sometimes we fall; and sometimes we run alongside the train hoping to get back on track.

I challenge you to be a repair person. When mind and body are strong and you stand firmly in the boxcar, why not stretch a little and lend a helping hand to those running alongside? Help them make their way back. You don't have to pull everyone up, nor fix a super long stretch of track or highway. Just one person at a time. A fellow passenger in need could be the person standing right next to you, just one railway tie away. Or one kind word away.

If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.

Booker T. Washington


Thoreau, Henry D. (2004) Walden. Yale Unversity Press

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Also, beautiful painting!!


In Sikhism, we practice Seva or “selfless service”, which involves helping those in need without any reward or personal gain (basically the Sikh translation of volunteering). It is way of life for Sikhs and considered the highest penance. Even though seva is supposed to be selfless, I always come away feeling uplifted and fulfilled. It doesn’t take much to be a solider for humanity as you would say, and this is a reminder to be kinder and more altruistic in my day to day.

Rosa Valle-Lopez
Rosa Valle-Lopez
Sep 09, 2021
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I love the wisdom and kindness behind Seva. May we all practice it in our own way. Thank you for sharing. I’ve heard many times that if we’re feeling down, best medicine is to go outside or help somebody else.

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