Colors of the Railroad

A meditation for Black History Month

We are as dark as the night. We move slowly through this winter chill. We were warned that going north would be cold, but our bones never expected this. Even as we huddle together, arms crossed, wrapped in hope, we shiver—not as much from the bitter cold, but from what lies ahead of us on the railroad. Rarely seen from the underground, in the harbor stands a lady. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free...” are the first words of the inscription she bears.

This day, we communters are huddled indeed as the heat is slow to rise. We are a train car short of our five-car morning train, and three of the four are having trouble with the heat. Today, someone shouts to the conductor, “We don’t need a damn wall, we need some heat!” Heads nod in agreement. The conductor tells us he is doing the best he can, and he is cold too. From under the hats and hoods you can see a kaleidoscope of skin tones. Everyone on this train has one common goal: get the workday done and go home. We are the “working poor;” most of us will travel long hours, work a long day and make the trip home again. Tomorrow is a case of rinse and repeat. Many live paycheck to paycheck; if we do have a savings account, it has dwindled. We are all immigrants of some sort on this train, and, along the way, we will stop and pick up more.

We arrive at the Suffern, NY station and an electrician boards the train, waves his magic wand and slowly we can feel the heat begin to rise. Smiles begin to form on defrosting faces, but the inside of the windows is still frosted up from our breathing. Scraping it away makes a porthole to the frozen landscape that is February in New York and New Jersey. We exit the train in Penn Station and fold into the kaleidoscope that is the melting pot of New York City. Honestly, no one cares where you come from, what your country of origin is, if you’re scurrying off to work like me—you’re fine. Welcome to the American dream.

We have lived long enough to know that immigrants will keep coming. In my opinion, be it humble or not, walls will not keep them out. People fleeing their native lands looking for a better life will always find a way. For that matter, as long as people are using drugs, they will find a way to get drugs in, too. Yes, there is a dark underbelly to our American dream, but there is a very bright side as well.

The month of February, we pause to celebrate Black History month. It is a complicated history indeed, and the history is still being written. If you take the time to listen to the many stories told this month, you can hear a story of people who arrived in bondgage. Yearning to be free, they too traveled a railroad, one that was fraught with much more danger than a morning without heat in a train car. Along the way, people of conscience lent a hand and helped those travelers; others who made it north did it with their own fortitude.

The next time you see a passenger train or a commuter bus for that matter, think about all the beautiful colors riding inside. We are all in this together and as someone once said “nobody gets out alive.”


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