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When I was 21, my late husband told me, “This is my train,and you’re welcome to ride it. Ifat anytime you don’t like the destination, you’re free to get off, but overall,you won’t find a better ride anywhere.” As I think back on his statement, I realize it was selfish, egotisticaland often ignored what was in my best interest. If I’d been the tour director, instead of the passenger, we would have traveled a different route. Although I wasoffered a choice of stops along the way, the decision to stay on board, or getoff, was always mine.
Much of the time we traveled the world in search of placeswhere no one spoke English, you couldn’t get a cheeseburger, and a room for thenight was a hammock with a skinned squirrel overhead that dripped blood ontoour foreheads. He was a naturalborn teacher, and I was his Eliza Doolittle, encouraged to become a mixture ofBarbarella, Margaret Thatcher and Sally Ride. In many ways, that journey has served me well, plus I’verealized he was right, and wrong, about a great many things.
Recently I was interviewed by a young reporter, and one ofher questions was what advice would I give to my 21-year-old self? Thinking about that young woman, whowas often a passenger on someone else’s train, my answers were “don’t be afraidto say no,” “listen to your little voice,” “don’t be afraid to try somethingnew,” and “what are you waiting for?” I believe those are sage words of wisdom, regardless of our age, butparticularly if we hear a clock ticking somewhere in the back of our mind.
Everyone’s clock is driven by different things: money, ego,God, age, love, sex, health, and ultimately, death. What if, when we’re nearing the end of our lives, we realizewe’ve spent our time worrying about the wrong things and missed all that wasright about our lives? What ifwe’ve spent our time worrying about when, and if, breast cancer willreturn? Isn’t that focusing ondying instead of living, and if that is true, then we’re not really living. We’re simply marking time like a prisonerin a cell; only our cell is a self-imposed prison. The question then becomes, how do we get off the trainwe’re on and change destinations, or change our way of thinking and acting soit becomes an acceptable destination? Better yet, what happens to us, to those who love us, if we don’t do anything but stay on the same train that’s already departed?
One thing I’ve learned from life is we should all be conductors ofour own train. While our decisionto stay, or get off, should also be determined by what’s in the best interestof those around us, and not just ourselves, we should still “listen to ourlittle voice,” “don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to sayno.” That brings us to the only other piece of advice I would give my younger self. “What are you waiting for?”