I travelled to London by train last week and had a fascinating journey. I travelled on a slightly later train so that I could use my Senior Railcard (there are some advantages to getting older!). In spite of the fact that it was after the rush hour period it was still crowded with people and I was lucky to get a seat. I then indulged my passion for “people-watching”.
The lady opposite me read her newspaper all the way. I think she read every word that was published in the Daily Mail that day; she could have been a contestant on Mastermind by the time we got to Marylebone. The business man next to her spent quite a lot of time on his mobile phone checking that “Clare” had completed all the tasks necessary for the meeting he was to hold later that day. I felt quite sorry for Clare by the end of the journey. The man on the other side of the carriage was wearing a peaked cap throughout the journey indicating that he belonged to a wildlife trust. He became very frustrated when he opened his laptop only to find that he had forgotten to charge it up the night before. He resorted to his mobile phone but then found that he could not get a decent signal. His body language and deep sighs reflected his frustration. Throughout the journey the carriage was very quiet as everyone retreated into their personal world apart from the two ladies seated by the window. They were beautifully dressed and carefully made-up (true fashionistas!) and they were planning a mega shopping spree in the capital. We heard all about the items they wished to purchase, where they felt that they would get the best quality goods and how they would celebrate their purchases with a delicious lunch. It sounded like a very entertaining day.
At the next stop a family got onto the train and squeezed into the only remaining seats near me. Mother was very protective of her daughter who looked painfully thin and pale. As soon as they sat down Mother got a sterile face mask out of a pack and her daughter put it on. After checking that they were both comfortable Father sat down next to me and got out his mobile phone. I thought that he would start competing with the business man in making arrangements for work, but he surprised me. He started reading something on his phone and making the sign of the cross in the way in which members of the Russian Orthodox Church do. I was curious so I peered over his shoulder at the text on the mobile phone. I assume that it was the text of Morning Prayer and it looked as if it was in Russian. I felt deeply moved by his actions; Morning Prayer seemed to be part of his daily routine and he would commit to it wherever he was. I started to speculate on this family’s situation. It was obvious that his daughter was ill, and I assumed that they were on their way to London to see a specialist. I found myself also turning to prayer and adding my prayers for this family to his own.
A train carriage gives us lots of opportunities for “people-watching” and a brief insight into their lives. It is fascinating to see the diversity of people, to speculate about their jobs and commitments, and to see how they relate to each other. I know that this presents me as an essentially nosy person who listens in to conversations and reads other people’s books and phones (true, says John!) but I am also fascinated by people. Last week’s railway carriage was a small scale reflection of society in general and encouraged me to consider how fortunate we are to live in such a varied and fascinating world. The Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God, and the diversity of humankind brings home to me the wonder of God’s creation. Each person is unique and yet we are all part of God’s family, with the opportunity to learn from each other and build close relationships.
I am still thinking of that family who got on the train and holding them in my prayers. But I also know that God is aware of their needs and is caring for them each hour and each day.