the train to the north

POSTCARD #267: Newcastle-Inverness journey: Head spinning with ear-popping air pressures and momentum of the great storm that brought me here. The travel industry is the largest network in the world. Miles of corridors, two planes, Delhi/ Amsterdam/ Newcastle and the train to the North. Everything is linked with everything else – absolutely everything… who runs it all? (is there a God?) Inappropriate question; taxis, escalators, the spinning flow of it just moving along by itself. I jump on a train to Scotland and join the others already there. Get my seat, and we’re all swept away by these huge mountain scenes passing through the train, opening up in the windows, then changing to the next picture.

Train arrives at my stop, a small town I visited when I was a kid, long ago and far away. I feel like a stranger now, my whole reason for being here is to visit the boy. I could be one of the three wise men flying in from the East to visit the child (why did they do that?), except I’m the only one… a wise man nobody has ever heard of, bearing gold, myrrh and frankincense (the story goes), and other assorted gifts, including Chawanprash, an Ayurvedic health food for the parents. Ring doorbell, hello everyone, well the boy is asleep now is he then? Okay, never mind, he will wake up soon.

Twenty minutes spent chatting with mom and dad, then sure enough, enter stage right, stumbling into the spotlight… a one-and-a-half year-old, fair-skinned, wide-eyed, blond boy, new to the world. And all I can see when I look at him, are the faces of the elders (recently passed) flickering through identities in his face, the enigma, in recognition of me being here (I never attended their funerals)? The boy is shy about me in his living room, turns this way and that, bright colours of toy objects, he is a shining presence, moving in the actuality of it…the IS-ness of it.

I’m astonished. He is all of it; the elders faces I see in profile who look back at me when the boy moves his head. Short glimpses of aunts and uncles I haven’t seen for so long, now dead and gone, and it’s as if they were really ‘here’, having become the form of this small boy. If I say they are real, then they are. Their eyes looking out of his small face. Identity… where does it begin? The child is father to the man, they’re looking at me as if waiting for something to happen… birth is a turning inside-out and an embodiment in a physical being – we are all so unaware of it, only the Old Souls who have been here and travelled through this gate many times can see how it really is.

Everything happening without language to give it form, so it cannot be remembered, and of course this sweet boy is unaware of any kind of story about me, the only uncle on his mother’s side… and when he’s old enough to understand that, it’ll be too late! I’ll not be able to be here to say hello, my nephew, and this is the story of how the World works… I feel an urgency, I should write this post in such a way that he will find it one day (message in a bottle), and thus understand the World much more clearly than I. He will find words for it, I feel sure, which can immediately express and bring into reality these hesitant forms of mine, shadows of a former time.

So, it was all a wonderful returning to one’s own sense of ‘selfhood’, seen in the boy – a dream-state set in the context of my being awake. We have no children of our own – sad, so sad. There’s something about this that’s so clear and obvious, then I lose it, and it can never be found, because searching for it creates the sense of it being lost, for ever and ever….


27 thoughts on “the train to the north

    • Thanks Val, I don’t know if it’s usual to have this kind of discussion about seeing the faces of those already passed, in the face of a child other than, ‘he looks like this person or that person’. I suppose people don’t think of it that way.

  1. Your writing truly touches me today. So much of you wrapped up in it. I’m guessing that in addition to connecting with the departed family through the child’s face and mannerisms, you reconnected with your younger selves as you reentered the land of your upbringing. For an unsettling reason I feel I must attend my aunt’s 92nd birthday next month, despite just missing nearly a week of work while hospitalized and recovering and a husband who does not want me to go. Safe travels, T.

    • Hi Shielagh, maybe it’s something that comes with age. Gradually your senior relatives start to disappear and you feel you must attend your aunt’s 92nd birthday, for example, even though you’re unwell and your spouse says you shouldn’t go. In the same way we become aware of these things hovering on the edge of life and death, and yes seeing a new child who has been born into the family has the effect of reconnecting with one’s younger self. And just reconnecting anyway, in the land of my birth, so yes Sheilagh, it has been great and thanks for your kind words.

      • Yes, age. These difficult days teach me again or now the Five Remembrances. I am of the nature to grow old, I am of the nature to have illness, I am of the nature to die. All that I love and hold dear are of the nature to change. All I have are my actions. Thank you, dear T. I love your words and the spirit in them.

    • Thank you Ellen and yes, the emotional aspect of the meeting made it quite different from other encounters. All of it in the surroundings of how things were for me there and then so long ago…

  2. I enjoyed this reflection very much, Tiramit. You bring home the reality of our being birthed anew, yet sprung from the past–the past is both us and not us at all, as all things transform and intermingle–in a way that is beautiful and insightful. I just read TransAtlantic by Colum McCann and one of the beautiful components to this book for me was the way it painted a picture of generations, and then expanded that to be an open loop. The book left you sitting at the edge of the sun, realizing everything was reconstituted in every moment, flickering through the obvious.


    • Thank you Michael, good to hear from you again. The encounter with the child was/is what led to the writing, I hadn’t planned it like that, the transformation took place of its own accord. Interesting to hear about TransAtlantic, I read the pages available in the Amazon sample and feel drawn towards having it…

  3. “The train to the North” I read and up flashes a railway station platform with me as a youth reading Basho. He and his writings (transmogrified by time and language of course) live again (or still) as you and yours may well live again (or still) in a future momentary flash or more of your nephew’s. This temporal hologram. Salutations. Selah.

    • Yes Basho all those years ago and I may have been on one of these trains reading Narrow Road to the Deep North. North/South/North/South (there’s an imposed verticality in journeys to Scotland). I stumbled upon the title for this piece, then realised where it had its origin and fell into your temporal hologram. Great cycles of time pass in generations, as would a clock count the hours. Selah

  4. Your post reminds of a journey home, which most of the time brings back happy memories but not so happy present. Things change beyond recognition. Nevertheless it is worth going back to the place of one’s childhood

    • This is it, the tendency is to try to get the happy memory to fit with present-day appearance. It can be overwhelming to begin with – then it’s a case of going with the changed form and the rest becomes a memory…

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