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Lessons from Trains

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two trains

I took the two photographs above while walking on the “Bloomingdale Trail” in Chicago. This unused three miles of elevated railroad track and footpath is slated to become a park and trail system connecting four neighborhoods by summer of 2016 and has been renamed the 606.

In June 2013 I spent five days with my son and two friends running a small urban adventure day camp. One of our adventures involved walking the “Bloomingdale.” It was so cool to be walking 16 feet above street level and getting a very unique perspective of Chicago. We walked over and next to parks, streets, schools, old factory buildings, and residential areas for about 30 minutes. On a second trip there a few days later, we walked the entire stretch of from beginning to end and back again. It was on this excursion that we found the two abandoned trains. They had been left there and over the years had become part of the urban landscape; I had wanted to walk the entire Bloomingdale Trail prior to its reconstructive surgery.

These abandoned tracks made by joggers and bicyclists will lose some of their character when the city of Chicago transforms them into park area and trails. As I looked at and examined the these two sets of train cars, I reflected on how they, at one time, served a purpose holding cargo of one type or another, but without an engine pulling them they were rendered non-functional. I thought about myself and how I have big grand ideas and projects in my mind, but if they are not “attached” to an action plan or any measurable movement, then they are just plans, sitting abandoned on a railroad track.

Learning from our surroundings (people, places, and things) is key for those who try to invest time in working on themselves. This is what I was doing with the train cars. As I walked back to my entry point (which involved climbing through a cut out passageway in a fence, climbing up a man-made ladder, climbing over another fence, and then jumping onto a garbage can) I was reminded of a something  taught by ethicist, Rabbi Israel Salanter.

When he first observed the railroad system he was able to extract three important lessons: If you come late, you will miss the train; if the train jumps the rail, then all of the cars might overturn; and a person without a ticket cannot board the train.

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