Allow me to preface this piece by pointing out that until an hour ago, I was going to write “A Day in the Life of a Premed Student.” I even asked all my premed friends for ideas and had a basic structure in my mind. In case you haven’t noticed, this is not that article (no worries, it'll be next week). Why, you ask?
As I sit here in an empty train station, awaiting the time of my train, I am filled with all kinds of thoughts and emotions. This is exactly why I chose this moment to write this article. Writing that comes from raw pain and fresh wounds is the best and purest form of writing, the sincerest and truest writing to be found. So what exactly caused this change of plans and drastic wave of sentiments?
Well, my friends, today I missed a train.
I know it seems petty and you’re probably thinking I’m just talking about the woes of commuter students again. I can assure you (having written the whole thing) that it is not. It is about so much more than merely missing a train. So let me tell you about my day.
It started like any other beginning with an 8AM Organic Chemistry lecture, except better. I had a good night’s sleep (in college students’ terms, that amounts to about five to six hours of sleep) and on top of that, I let myself sleep in a little. I woke up refreshed and ready to tackle the day. I took my train, arrived to class on time, and managed to stay awake through my three back-to-back classes (owing to my good night’s sleep). I had lunch with my best friend and did that socializing thing while I was at it. I then merrily made my way to my Arabic class to ace the quiz I had.
And here begins the real story. The thing about college exams and quizzes (for those of you who aren’t aware) is that in almost all cases, as soon as you have turned in your exam or quiz, you are free to go. This is even more amazing if the class is the last one of your day (as Arabic is mine), in which case your day ends early. Now, the inconvenience here is that unlike last year when I drove to school, this year there are only specific times when I can get on a train and go home. So even though I might finish the quiz at say, 1:10, I have to take the next train which obviously does not run on my schedule.
Another thing: I couldn’t miss my car last year. That was an especially nice feature.
Sure enough, I finished my quiz at 1:10 and groaned when I saw the time. The next train was 1:30, which left me 20 minutes to get to the Blue Line Station (the subway, for non-city folk who are wondering), wait for it to come, take it a couple of stops, walk to my Metra station, and catch the train. It sounds like no problem until you’ve actually tried it. Fun fact: commuting in scenarios like this is precise clockwork. If one thing interrupts the timing, the entire thing falls apart. For instance, I have to catch the Blue Line with a remaining window of at least 10 minutes to give me time for the ride and to get to the Metra station.
I know, I know. “So what if you miss the 1:30 train? Just catch the next one.”
Cool. I’ll just sit at the station until 2:55 then (which, ironically, is what I am doing as I’m writing this. It’s 2:36 right now).
Now, in scenarios like this I have a protocol to save myself unnecessary effort and stress. If I am sure I can make the train, I hurry and maybe even run (for those of you who don’t know me, I simply do not run) to make it, knowing my effort will pay off when I catch the train. On the other hand, if I am not sure whether I’ll make it, I’ll dawdle to purposely miss the train and then catch the next one, knowing full well I purposely missed it. This is the system that makes me the most comfortable emotionally.
Today though, the thought of the 1:30 was a little too enticing. I’d be home almost 2 hours earlier than I would otherwise. I decided to take the leap and try it.
As I speed-walked to the Blue Line Station, my phone informed me the next train would be arriving in two minutes. I groaned yet again (this time probably externally) and began jogging. I saw it arrive from atop the entrance, and I sprinted for it, my brain screaming “Don’t trip and fall on your face. Don’t trip and fall on your face” as I bounced and stumbled down the long ramp. I surprisingly made it to the platform before the train pulled away and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Then the motivational music slowed to a melancholy, dreadful tune and the bright afternoon colors faded to black and white as the conductor closed the doors and pulled away as I stood on the platform watching him. There is no way he did not see me, and yet he just…pulled away (I honestly don’t wish bad on people but I would never be able to find it in my heart to do this to a hassled college student I just watched sprint to catch the train. Would you?).
I tried to hold onto my last shred of hope, but honestly speaking, I should have just turned back and waited in the library because it did not get any better from there. I glanced at my watch. 1:15. The next one would arrive in seven minutes. That left me maybe five minutes to make the 1:30 train, which pushed the limit, but not enough to where I decided to turn back. I wanted to get home early and the 1:30 train was the way to do it.
As promised, the Blue Line came in seven minutes. I got on, desperately praying the conductor would not dawdle. As soon as it stopped at my station and the doors opened, I flew out and sprinted up the ridiculously long escalator, up another flight of steps, and onto the street. I was determined to make it and I even still had hope. Sometimes the conductors waited for runners. There was a chance. I made it to the platform and saw the train. I was overjoyed. But the great thing (by which I mean not great at all) about the 1:30 train is they detach the last three cars since it’s not a rush hour train. So instead of jumping straight into the first car I had to keep going to find the fourth one. There were people running ahead of me. I could see the car. I was so close. So impossibly close.
But all of you know how this story ends. As I reached the beginning of the fourth car, it pulled away as I was still running to catch it, maybe 10 feet from the door. I stopped dead. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. My trachea felt like it was being sawed in half and my legs were on fire. And despite that, I missed the train.
I turned around and finding a platform support beam, put my arms against it, leaned my head over my arms, and much to my surprise, began weeping. Hot, bitter, relentless tears that just kept coming even though I wanted nothing more than for them to stop. Why was I weeping? Why couldn’t I handle missing this train?
After calming down and thoroughly rinsing my very red, very puffy face with cold water, I came to a few key conclusions.
The first is that when I’m deciding which train to catch I don’t think I’ll ever go with only 20 minutes to catch it. I’m not putting myself through this again. I know you all wanted me to say that I’ll keep trying and I won’t give up but honestly, 20 minutes is just silly.
Next (a real point this time), I need to be more resourceful and actually make every effort to pursue what I want. Did you notice that in either instance, if I had used my voice, I would’ve made the train? If I had yelled “Hold the train!” when going to catch the Blue Line, the conductor may not have ignored me. And if I had done the same by the Metra, there’s a chance the other runners or maybe a conductor would have heard and asked the train to hold for less than 30 seconds.
Another thing: remember that saying that goes “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?" I should have learned from the Blue Line incident and said something for the Metra. But I didn’t. I made the same mistake twice in 10 minutes. And here I am, riddled with guilt. That should never happen.
Fourth, when I was running to catch the Metra, there was a man who was also trying to make it, and we both missed it. When I began crying, he waited for me to look up, offered me a few tissues and said, “Here. It’s okay. I missed it also.” It was a simple and yet unbelievably kind thing of him to do, to try to calm me down, and I’ll never be able to quite thank him for that. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there is still goodness in the world and that man was a part of it.
So, in the end I did miss the train, but I also learned a few valuable things that I offer to you today, my friends. Find your voice and use it. Actively learn from your mistakes and don’t allow yourself to have regrets. Be kind to others and offer them support because it means more to them than you can imagine. Don’t allow your downfalls to be crippling. Find a way to make them into something worthwhile and beautiful. After all, this article came from missing my train in the most agonizing way possible. I don’t know about you, but I’d say it was definitely worthwhile.