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Train story


Racing Home, Flickr image by Vermon IncWe know it's a suffering world. Even if we are not inhabitants of Iraq, Afghanistan, or one of X number of other trouble spots, many of us plod a somewhat weary way through this vale of tears, often forgetting to count our blessings. On a kind of pedestrian auto-pilot, we are, putting one foot in front of the other.

Yet, once in a while we are stopped dead in our tracks. By the human, which occasionally turns out to be the miraculous as well.

I was recently stopped in my railway tracks, as it were, shortly after embarking on a train journey to Melbourne from the Western District.

My place in the train was opposite a couple who were old, but did not know the meaning of the word 'ennui'. I'm old enough, Heaven knows, but John and Jane (not their real names) are much older.

I was immediately struck by a memory of the term 'irrational exuberance', which has been frequently used in these troubled times as a reference in economics. But John and Jane were incandescent with an exuberance which was irrational and, paradoxically, completely rational, at least to my way of thinking. For they had fallen unexpectedly, but completely and rapturously in love. At 81.

The journey of nearly three hours simply whizzed past. Usually, caught between idle interest and nostalgia, I gaze out the window at the familiar landscape. Not this time. And idle interest? Forget it. I was enthralled.

John and Jane had met at a senior citizens' club, they told me, and it had not really been love at first sight, but something that grew between them. Rapidly. 'Well, at our age you can't muck about, can you, so we're not; we're hoping for ten years.'

They were returning from a wonderful holiday, and to their separate abodes. Neither was relishing this thought, and they were trying to decide what to do next. Part of their exuberance was an irrepressible sense of humour. 'I'm quite happy to be caught,' announced John, 'but in the meantime I'm having fun running.' Jane grinned: 'So am I.'

The life stories were duly sketched. Both had been widowed for some time before they met. Significantly, both had had happy marriages, although very different ones. Jane's had been unusual for the time, as she and her husband had had separate interests, so that both travelled independently as well as together. John's long and more conventional marriage had been marked by his wife's chronic illness.

Both had had a religious upbringing of the nonconformist sort, so that John, unsurprisingly, is a lifetime teetotaller, despite having been a grower of grapes. 'None of my fruit ever went into wine,' he told me. 'It was all for dried currants and so on.'

I became quite exuberant myself under this inspiriting influence, but also found myself on the brink of tears when John told me more about his late wife's illness. She had had MS, and he did most of the nursing during 20 years. I could hardly utter a sound at this point, but the expression on my face must have spoken volumes, because John said, 'Simple, though, isn't it? That's what you do when you love someone.'

Love can happen at any age, and be simple, I agree, although I think people who put the idea into practice are extremely rare. John is clearly one of this select number, and so remained open to the notion of love recurring.

 Perhaps there is nothing original to say about the matter, but Tolstoy believed that at our best we are particles of love; when we die we return to and rejoin the eternal source of Love. I knew, when I looked at those old but beautifully shining faces, that I was in the company of two vibrating, rejoicing particles, ones that were so alive.

I am tearful now, just remembering. Yes, sometimes we get stopped in our tracks.

Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an Australian writer who has been based in Greece for 28 years. She has had eight books published. Her most recent is No Time For Dances.

Topic tags: gillian bouras, miracle, melbourne train, old couple in love, connex



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Existing comments

'Simple, though, isn't it? That's what you do when you love someone.'

sweet mother of the lord. that's as pithy a summary of What It's All About as I have read in a year. Amen to that,

Brian Doyle | 26 November 2008  

I have been a priest for twenty five years, but one of the most memorable marriages I ever performed was in my early days with an aged and previously widowed couple like this.

I remember the woman was called Queeny, but she was more like a pixie in her sense of fun. The man was like he was in year nine. Eighty year old teenagers, they were, and they made sure everyone around them got in on it.

The preparation time was the most fun I have ever had with a wedding. The wedding day was the celebration of family like no other, with these two being about the oldest people there. There are not too many brides have their great grand-daughter as flower girl.

It was almost ten years later that I heard Queeny had died. Perhaps somebody reading this in Braidwood will remember them still.

Kim Miller | 26 November 2008  

Thankyou Gillian! A wonderful love story that moved me to tears as I gratefully reflect on the blessings that I have enjoyed in a permanent, exclusive and unconditional relationship.

carey mciver | 26 November 2008  

Lovely, Gillian. Yes, we all have to grow older, but not necessarily 'age'. God bless those who keep really living until they die.

glen avard | 26 November 2008  

I loved this story, too. To be lost in a feeling ... to enthuse about being
with someone! Just proves that love is such a positive!

Rosemary Noble | 26 November 2008  

Love on a train - such a joyful story. I find train journeys magical because of the people I meet and the life stories I hear. For me, though, as a widow of three short yet forever years, I miss being loved. How I miss being loved is, as I now see, the same poetic as being loved, and in love. Losing those special 'love-events' almost drove me mad with grief. If he was walking by me at home, my husband would sweep me up and dance me to his destination, a long contented gaze preceding a kiss I can still touch in memory. This couple's love reminds me.

Pauline F Parker | 26 November 2008  

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