The Tracks To Our Future Are Found In Our Past genre: Happy Remembrances & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Making tracks

It’s not unusual for me to wake up two or three times during the night...and last night was no different in that regard. Occasionally I’ll get up for a drink of water or make my way to the bathroom…but I typically find that I’m able to stay inside of the dream that happened to be in progress before I awoke and then easily fall back to sleep once I’m back in my bed. Once in a while, my mind leaves its slumber and some issue or thought will surface and keep me from resuming my nightly hibernation. Last night was one of those nights. It was three in the morning and I started thinking about my childhood days and I began pondering how I had arrived here at this point in this place in this country of ours.

These days I live near the train tracks…something we’ve all experienced much of our lives yet I’m not sure we ever stop to ask how or why that is often the case. It’s funny because when I sold my home and quit my job and set out to travel the world…a good portion of that journey was aboard a train…especially throughout Europe. As I pondered the connection, my mind began its own journey.

When I returned from my trip around the world, I moved into an area nearer to the railroad tracks than the home I’d lived in for a number of years...and it seems I’ve been near railroad tracks ever since. I’m somewhat fascinated by the sights and sounds of trains and rail yard sounds at night when the rest of the world is sleeping as it brings me some unusual sense of comfort…perhaps a grounded feeling. When I do wake during the night, I rarely fail to note the sounds of the rail…it might be the slow rumble of a train as it begins to move or the squealing of the tracks as metal meets metal or a blast of air…and of course there’s always the occasional whistle.

As my mind emerged from its rest, I was aware that I had been dreaming about my childhood in Canon City, a small little town in southern Colorado. In my dream I was outside working with my dad on the five acres of land where I spent the bulk of my early years and where my parents remain to this day. Working outdoors was something I loved and I was always thrilled when we would begin a new project. As I reviewed the content of my dream, it struck me just how separated we are in this modern world from the basic toils of years gone by.

As a kid, I remember thinking about having a lawn. You see my dad and my uncle built their houses next to each other while they also continued to run their business…so once the house was habitable, we moved in even though the house wasn’t completed. It would be a number of years before we planted a lawn and I often imagined what it would be like to have a yard…nothing fancy…just an ordinary lawn…and as I think back I always knew we would have one but I also knew we would have to work hard for that to happen. I never stopped believing that we would eventually achieve that simple goal. I think kids are unique in that regard. For children, the world is huge and the slightest of dreams can occupy the mind for days and sometimes even years…and those dreams can retain their meaning and their promise for the duration.

As I embraced my thoughts about the years we struggled…though at the time I don’t think I saw it as a struggle…I realized the inconsequential nature of much of our existence. We moved into our home when I was beginning the second grade and I believe I was a teenager before we had a lawn and just as long before we had a color television. The funny thing is that it never really mattered that we didn’t have either or that it took so long to have both…because my dreams never wavered and I knew hard work would eventually provide both.

Perhaps that is why my dreams are always filled with people and places and things from those distant years…years in which I lived more closely connected to the toils that eventually brought me to this point in time. As I sat in the dark and listened to the sounds of the rail, my mind suddenly jumped forward to recall that we are less than three weeks from an election. I thought about the fact that we are focused upon determining in which political party to bestow enough power to enable them to determine our nation’s course of action…a decision that brings concern and anxiety as we await the outcome. As my mind went back and forth, I started to question whether we ever stop to understand how we actually arrive in the places we find ourselves.

As I rocked my chair…the one that belonged to my grandpa and grandma many decades ago…I tried to answer my own question. The first thing that entered my mind was the railroad tracks because in reality they played a fundamental role in how we each arrive at where we eventually find ourselves. Many of us live by the railroad tracks because it was how we got here…it was how each little city or town began…and it happened because some visionary from our distant past had a dream about where to put down these miles and miles of tracks.

It struck me that we take those dreams and decisions for granted today and I would venture that nary a soul ever ponders how each of these American cities came to pass…or how important those dreams and decisions were at one time long, long ago…and, for that matter, how they were ever brought to fruition. As I pondered the possibilities, the first thing that crossed my mind was the search for opportunity. For my ancestors it was coal mining…but there were many other reasons. For some it was the well documented search for gold. For others it might have been the search for a temperate climate in which to raise a particular crop or an open meadow that allowed for easy irrigation. Regardless, the train went where it should and it wasn’t simply a matter of chance.

At the same time, the train didn’t care who was a Democrat or a Republican…those distinctions were not part of the equation as our fellow Americans primarily needed to make a living and they were looking for a better life in a vast nation with countless possibilities...opportunities that led all kinds of Americans to put down the tracks that now traverse this nation from shore to shore and border to border. As it turned out, there was a place for everyone and the train followed countless dreams in order to connect us with those we left behind and with those that ventured far ahead. More importantly, when those that went before passed away, their tracks remained.

It seems to me that two things connected all of these people…they were all Americans and they all participated in creating the tracks that were made available to all in search of a better life. Wherever people ventured, the tracks went as well…and who one chose to vote for was meaningful but secondary to their shared daily struggles…struggles to find another place to lay down tracks…tracks that would lead or follow citizens to better places and better lives.

On November 7th we vote with the presumption that our choices and our dreams are about the very same things…a better place and a better life…and yet it seems that we can’t see the tracks that preceded us nor can we determine where to place the next set of tracks…but that needn’t be true because they have always been there and they still remain. The larger question is whether we will honor the dreams and the toils of those who placed them there for the benefit of all Americans.

We need not be a nation divided…for we are a country that was built by our countrymen and countrywomen one track at a time…spanning the entire nation in order to bring us together in our American dream no matter where or why we chose to lay down our own unique tracks. Nonetheless I fear we may have lost site of that important reality…having cut ourselves into pieces and divisions that deny our mutual origin and that ignore our mutual tracks. Our actions suggest that our paths no longer cross and that, more importantly, our tracks no longer intersect. It is as if we have determined that we are divided into groups that can only traverse the rails of those who hold fast to one party or one ideology.

We are not red America or blue America…or even purple America. That is a fabrication that ignores the countless tracks that were so wisely placed by those who led us to this land of abundance…so abundant that we went everywhere and we went there together along the tracks of those before us…Irish with Italian…German with Jew…black with white…farmers with doctors…mothers with fathers…young with old…yet all together in one solemn thing…we were all Americans.

This coming midterm election should not be a vote to abandon or deny some of our tracks or to segregate some of our fellow travelers. If we make it so, then we are no longer deserving of the toil that placed them upon this bountiful soil with the hope and the intention that all of her inhabitants could share in all of the benefits. There need not be two Americas…two sets of tracks. We must reject that notion and it is time we did so with one voice.

We are all here…and we are all here together because of the wisdom of our forefathers…those great spirits who occupy your dreams and my dreams at night…those wise souls who found within themselves and their common goals the ability to set aside their apparent differences. They did so in order to place the necessary tracks upon the never before traveled land…so that they could take us to where we sought to be and where we dreamed we would eventually arrive. They did the hard work for all of us…without reservation for who might use those tracks or consideration for who might be denied the use of those tracks. These tracks of ours were put in place for anyone who had the dream to be and the vision to become an American.

Our tracks have carried the living and the dead…they have brought hope and they have brought despair …but they were built to serve all who came together to be Americans…and they are undeniably the product of that which defines us as Americans. On November 7th we are called once again to put down new tracks…tracks that will lead us to our future…but they must be tracks that we can travel together…as Americans…once again.

Daniel DiRito | October 20, 2006 | 6:06 PM
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