In the moment we felt the train convulse, I caught Anna’s eyes as she was tossed out of her red velvet seat into the isle, captivated by fear. Her hair followed behind her as she struck the floor with a violent thrust. I flew sideways into the car window and heard it splinter behind me as glass evacuated its frame, encompassing my entire form. I felt several sharp pains flow through my arm and my back as the glass penetrated my skin. With my adrenaline pumping, the laments of people around me echoed like a marching drum pounding in my heart. A second convulsion of cars occurred as the train began to slide off the track and collide into the cars behind us, sending everyone flying backwards, uncontrollably, leaving us nothing to cling to, just to be tossed around like sand in a tornado. The bolts of the seats could no longer bear the weight against it and sent the furniture flying through the air, crashing into the sides as more piercing cries were sent into the atmosphere. My attention was dragged behind me as I heard a cry familiar to my heart. I grasped with my hands, a still remaining seat and turned to look behind me as Anna sat compressed against what was once red and velvet. “August, help me” she cried. As I lunged towards her, the train car twisted once again and sent me to the other side, catching my foot on the bar under a seat and sending me down to the floor. Like a bad dream in slow motion, I fought my way up, but a sharp pain now filled the muscles in my ankle, still I kept fighting. My breath began to slow as the available oxygen became less and less, and smoke in the car became more and more. For a moment the car seemed to stop turning and I captured my balance enough to stand and step into the isle. The previous throw had sent me farther behind Anna so I impelled my body forward to find her pinched between a seat and the ground, but her body was bent around something behind her. I noticed her breaths were short and she let out a quiet whimper with each breath. As I made it beside her, I could tell that something wasn’t right. There was much affliction. As I walked into her view she held out her hand with a folded paper inside her palm.
She handed me the letter she had been so desperate to deliver and without hesitation began to smile. I was knelt down beside her as my nervous system comprehended the warm sensation that began to soak into my jeans. Anna was caught, rather stuck, between a seat and a bar that pierced her side.
Already, and much too soon, my heart was breaking; Anna was dying as smoke was filling the car, compromising my vision and I was starting to forget why all of this way happening. “August,” she called desperately and in short breaths as I began to relax against her arm, “August, listen to me, ok?” I nodded with exasperation, but my thoughts were captivated by her will to keep living in the contrast of my will to start dying. I braced her head on my lap as a gash on her head dripped with blood. “You have to go.” Anna stared deep into my eyes and I watched as a tear captured the dirt on her cheek and brought it down to the tip of her chin. With the small amount of strength I saw she had, she reached up and gently took my cheek into her hand. “August, you have to go.”
No, I thought. What she was saying didn’t make sense. I can’t go. I became filled with urgency and anger, my chest tightening. Shaking me head I yelled at her, “No, I can’t leave you here! You are the only one left I have to live for, I can’t leave you here!” The thought of getting off this train without her suddenly overwhelmed me and I was captured helpless to the agony that burned in my heart which caused a stream of tears to fall from my eyes; the distant sounds of ambulances and helicopters swelled around us. For a second I paused and glanced at all the other lifeless bodies around me as my tears began soaking Anna’s hand. She was so calm and lovely as she looked at me.
“August, I know this is hard.”
“No! No, don’t talk like this.”
“No, I can’t lose you. I can’t let go. I can’t do this!” I sobbed with my face buried into her lap. “Please, Anna, this can’t be it. I can’t live without you.”
She spoke so tenderly, “Oh brother, you’ve lost so much in this life, and you have such a beautiful heart. It’s going to be ok, though, ok?” I shook my head profusely in disagreement. “It is. God is good and has given you so much, and he wants to show you a love that no one on this earth is ever going to offer you!” I brushed her hand down.
“God is good? How can this god be good when bad things keep happening! Look at all these bad things!” I stopped short of shouting at her, but her face didn’t change, it was still peaceful.
“August, we just can’t see how they are good. You want to know something, brother? I am going to heaven. There will be no more crying or pain. I won’t have to suffer with regrets and shame. I will be with mom and dad. So much of this life I have lived in fear of my past, feeling worthless because of the family that never wanted me. Feeling betrayed by the hands that brought me to life as they abused me and belittled me. But, you know what, brother, I got to have you and if that means I had to feel that pain that I did, it was worth it because I had you. I learned what it means to forgive and to treat people not in the way they deserve, but to give to them what they don’t deserve. It’s that very grace that lets people change and I believe they have. I have. You have, August. They say blood is thicker, but from the day you were born, your blood ran through my veins as I remembered looking down on your tiny face. My brother.”
“Oh August,” she sighed as she coughed, “I’m going to be ok, and you are going to be continued to be watched over. There is one thing that I want you to remember for the rest of your life here, August. Just this one thing.” She stopped and took a breath, tears welled in her eyes. “God loves you so much even with everything you are and everything you’ve done, he sacrificed himself just so you can know who he is. He knows you. You’ve just got to believe it, you’ve got to. He will show you and you will know. I’m not worried about you, brother. I love you. This life is but a breath, this pain is temporary.”
A horrendous sound began to rumble from the front of the train and a heat wave propelled past us. “I can save you!” I cried to Anna.
She closed her eyes, “I already am saved.” She coughed as the smoke grew thick and then silent. I believe she died in that moment. I touched her face that I could no longer see and reached down to kiss her hair that had been singed. “No,” I sobbed, but I knew it was time to go. With the final remaining strength I had in my heart and in my bones I pushed my self up and fought to the back of the train. The people all around me that hadn’t escaped had already died and I felt as if I had, but I kept running. With each riveting step I kept wishing it was my last, that I would fall and the fire’d consume me. As soon as I hit the crumply rocks and seared tracks I stumbled, but pushed myself up and kept running, stopping but a few hundred feet out.
First there was silence, a silence I think I created within myself. Even with the flashing lights drawing near and smoke spewing towards the sky, it was quiet. My body bled and burned in so many places that I couldn’t tell where the pain was coming from. Opening my hand, I was suddenly distracted and taken by the letter. There was so much about Anna that I didn’t know and I was supposed to know where to take it. The moments back in Chicago, when we were lost, a lone; yet we weren’t. We were surrounded by people of all paths of struggle, still searching to find a way out, or at least that’s what I’d be searching for. Yet all they had was contentment with the life they were given or had happened upon at least. They gave to us still, though they had no where to sleep, no food to eat. They gave apart from their circumstances. People are so strange, what possess people to give with, with love? It seemed that Anna would know what to do with this, she probably had a plan, a direction. What would I do now? Where would I go?
The parts of the letter that hadn’t been singed in the violent flames had part of an address where I remembered visiting with Anna once when I was very young. We had walked all the way up to the door, but quickly turned around. It was so confusing because we had packed our bags and driven so far for a reason she hadn’t shared just to turn back before even ringing the door bell. I never really asked why because I thought we were just on some strange adventure. I had forgotten all those memories until right now, because I had found those memories unnecessary to keep. It’s like I missed who Anna was. Here she was trying to reconcile her life, her past. I never even knew she wasn’t really my sister, how could I have known these people were her family? I never stopped to ask, I never suspected that such a well mannered, gentle person could have experienced and walked through so much pain. Why would she want to see them? Why was it that I never knew? Why didn’t I ever stop to really listen and care? Why did she have to take her last breath before I realized all of the questions I never got to ask, all the things about her life I never took the time to understand? Why? Why? why.
So this is how it would go: I would walk up to them with the dirt still clinging to my skin and Anna’s blood still seeping into my jeans, with tears still staining my eyes, I would walk up to them and say “This is for you. A gift from God” Maybe later they would hear who I was and the story of my sister. Maybe they would know my doubts about God, and maybe they would take the new born baby that was in their arms with peaceful green eyes, just like Anna’s, and praise God for his glory. Their lives would change forever.
With a giant rumble that shook the sky, a car took fire and a cosmic explosion was triggered, rupturing the entire atmosphere into black smoke, glass, and panic. If any hope for going in a saving survivors existed, it evaporated with the heat and burning flames.
I wish I could have gone back and saved her, I wish I could have been strong enough to lift her from piercing wreckage, but I wasn’t and there was nothing I could do. This is the way it was meant to be.
The wind struck me in a gust and sent me fumbling backwards. I regained my steps and looked out beyond my hand that was covering my face from the heat. How could this ever be good? How can this ever be good?
There were helicopters in the sky, hiding high in the black smoke, trying to shine a light ad mist the darkness and gloom, searching for survivors. They wouldn’t find any. Firetrucks began to pile up along the side and began spraying water, soon there was shouting and crying as people began to crowd in nearby. As at one point it was just I standing on these tracks alone, staring at this giant collision of confusion, now as people gathered I began to see mothers and fathers holding each other, crying in pain of their lost children, boys and girls crying for their lost friends. How can this be good? How can life even go on after this? How can people recover and ever feel joy in life? You don’t, I’ve heard some say. You just learn to keep breathing, others suggest. That’s not life. Before it was easy, I had a sister to comfort me and pray to a god of which I don’t believe, now it was just me. I’d never felt more alone, even among this crowd that shared in my pain. I longed to hear Anna’s voice, I wanted to see her come running out towards me, I wanted to hear her say it would be ok. All I heard though was, you just have to pray.
I fell to my knees. I became struck with this desire to lay my hands out and weep. No later did I find myself speaking words from my heart to my lips. “God, I am helpless. I have no where to go. What could you do with a soul like mine? I don’t know who you are or what is true, but I trust my sister. God save my soul, have mercy on me. Show me the way.”
In a brief gasp of breath, a thundercloud burst and rain began to fall ever so perfectly. Overtaken by weakness, I sat on my knees as the people around me became still, children hushed and the sirens ceased. The light rain filled the air. After a lapse of time the smoke died down as the dirt around me melted into mud. A group of people who had begun praying together stopped and looked to the sky in awe as a beam of sunshine broke through the clouded sky. A slow fade of light appeared through the silver clouds bringing rise to a rainbow and everyone around me looked up; no one spoke, no one cried, but the stillness grew deep. A rare, but simple moment exists and together we were all present, absorbing it. It wasn’t just stillness, though, it was something much, much different.
It was divine. It was peace.