This past week, bracketing the Fourth of July, 2013, my wife, Linda, our two teenagers, Cameron and Carra, and I embarked on a road trip to Northern California to return our second grandson, David, to his parents in Rocklin, California. A nine-hour car ride (including two hours through the Mojave desert) was spent mostly along Highway 99. Traveling with a two-year-old in tow was much different than most road trips I had experienced. We must have sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and children’s songs for at least two hundred miles. Linda had prepared a meal for an hour-long lunch stopover in Bakersfield, and we managed to find a park with a big shade tree. Still, the heat was thick around everyone like a heavy coat. With only a few stops for rest-breaks and gasoline, we arrived in Rocklin at about dinner time.
My brother, Jeff, and his wife, Loni, were our gracious hosts for an entire week during our visit. They had a meal waiting when we arrived and rooms set aside to accommodate our needs. The last time I had been up to see my brother was during his heart attack a few years ago. He looked in great health this trip. It was wonderful to see our daughter, Sarah, and son-in-law, Anthony, again as well as spend a day with our niece, Jessica, her husband Bryan, and their two children, Paul and Elise. We were even blessed with a visit, during a barbecue on the Fourth, from my childhood friend, Mike, his wife, Melissa, and their two kids, Merrick and Charlee. Our attention and purpose had been trained on family, particularly wrapping up our time spent with David. And the focus of our grandson David has primarily been on trains.
His favorite television show is about a train named Thomas. He knows by face the name of every train-character on that show; and the kid is only two. David often wears an engineer’s cap (“like the one grandpa wears.”) He carries around toy trains and, while visiting at our Moreno Valley home in June 2013, potty-trained with a musical train book. Simply put, the boy is fascinated with all things related to trains.
Hence, our road trip would not be complete without taking David to the Sacramento Train Museum, in the Old Town section of the State Capital. The museum was well worth the price of admission. We saw steam engines, coal burners, Pullman cars, and mail cars—some David could climb on and walk through—all industrial giants of their day. There were exhibits detailing how the railroad system was built; period pieces related to the citrus industry in California; displays of model trains; a play area for younger kids with trains and tracks galore; history upon history of the impact of trains upon the American landscape.
David was in train heaven. He was at home among the mechanical monstrosities with tactile intensity. Giant in size and fearsome in appearance though they were, David was not afraid to climb into and roam among them. I was amazed at his reverence of, and fascination with, those big trains. Had his great-great grandfather, Bill Spencer, still been alive, he would have been proud to see David’s love of trains. During the Great Depression, Bill Spencer had been working on the railroad all the live long day as a young man. Bill even drew a pension from the railroad system until his passing in 1985.
Watching our grandson’s joy that day in the railroad museum really caught my attention. I saw the child-like wonder in his face and exhortations with each turn of the track. David was exploring new and wondrous territory, a grand adventure conducted through time and place, rolling through periods past through the junction to the present day. He was not concerned with how trains worked, but that they did! His joy was complete in being in their presence, and his imagination did the rest.
David’s trained attention on trains caused me to take notice. I never thought I would learn so much about faith from a two-year-old boy. Whatever else David may glean from his fascination with trains, he has come to believe that they are his friends. As an adult, I might reason that David’s childlike understanding of trains lacks detail, knowledge, and practical application when it comes to a relationship between a human being and a machine. David loves trains like some grown-ups love their cars. David plays with and talks to his toy trains like some grown-ups scream at their big screen televisions during a sporting event. David sometimes introduces his trains to other human beings much like some grown-ups introduce their friends to Facebook, or texting, or the iPad.
In my view, the significant difference between grown-ups and David is he is not concerned about what others think of his relationship with trains. Trains are his friends and that is that. He speaks to them and they speak to him like no one else can. Does he hear an audible voice when he speaks to them and they speak to him? It does not matter. He believes in them. They are real to him. And they are his friends. And though David’s imagination is very active, no one discourages him from believing in trains. After all, trains are his friends.
It takes faith to believe in something outside oneself, whether it is a living object (like a tree), or a man-made thing like a train (or a government.) As adults, we place our faith (in varying degrees) in people, objects, and things. Somethings we place faith in are invisible (like God, gravity, love, and air.) Yet we believe invisible things exist. As believers, we refuse to allow our imaginations to be thrown off track by circular arguments or demands for proof. We stay on the rails, where common sense helps each relate to the world that exists and the invisible forces at work. We stay on track in faith because we recognize our friends in God, gravity, love, and air, not our limited inability to see them. For we see the evidence of their existence in how everything else operates through them.
I am grateful to God that he places simple reminders in my path that He exists. Every day is new and filled with wonders to explore. I was reminded with the births and raising of my children, and I am reminded again through my grandchildren. And I long for that child-like faith in God, like my grandson David loves his trains. A connection to trains runs in my family. It is not a locomotive to believe in, talk to, or love God. And I am not afraid of what anyone else thinks about the fact that God is my friend.
Lord, please help me keep my trained attention on you.
(copyright 2013, Gregory Allen Doyle)