it was going to be a sad trip home. i was on via rail, and had boarded in the beautiful city of ottawa, heading back to my home in the states. i’d been to visit my canadian boyfriend, we’d been together 2 years, and had decided to go our separate ways. it was going to be a 13 hour train ride, and i just wanted a chance to think and drift in silence. i sat by myself, purposely, planning to listen to music and not do much else.
as we were about to leave the station, a man sat down in the seat right next to me. he looked a bit world-weary, and had on a well-worn leather jacket, that looked much like his lived-in face. he introduced himself, had a very deep and gruff voice, and my first thought was, ‘oh no, i really, really don’t feel like talking to anyone, and this is going to be a really, really long trip.’
after a bit of polite banter, we sat, in silence once again, next to each other, and watched the landscape roll by. as i looked out, i began to think about everything, and a tear rolled silently down my face. i knew it was the right thing that had happened, that my boyfriend and i were not meant to be together, but also, how much i would miss him being a part of my life, even if we were in two different countries.
when he saw this, my stranger on the train reached into his jacket and pulled out a flask, and offered to share his whiskey with me. and he began to tell me his story. he had been on this trip that he was so excited about, but was returning to his hometown a very sad man. he had gone to ask his girlfriend to marry him, had the ring and the speech and the flowers, and she had answered him, ‘no.’
hours went by as we shared his whiskey and shared our stories. after a while, i began to stop feeling sad for myself, and took on a sadness for him and what he had just been through. we talked and talked, and found that we didn’t have many things in common, other than wounded hearts and our love of people. after a long while, i fell asleep and he continued to sit near me, ever the vigilant soldier, protective, and somehow connected by a break of the heart. i slept for a long while, and woke up to an amazing act of kindness.
i discovered that he had taken off his beloved coat and covered me with it, had put a granola bar in my hand, and put the engagement ring on my finger. when i looked at him, wondering why, he told that he worried i would wake up cold, be hungry, or feel unloved. he wanted to make sure that none of that happened.
he said i had made him feel so much better, just by being there and listening, and that he hoped that i knew someone cared, even if it was a stranger. i told him that i was overwhelmed by his kind heart, that he had helped me in the same way, and as i gave him back his coat and his ring, i wished him the same. when we got to the final station, we hugged and went our separate ways once again. my friends were standing there, waiting to take me home. i told them how i had been engaged for a few hours, not to my boyfriend, but to a stranger i had met on the train. he may never know how much this meant to me, but somehow, i think he does.
Great perils have this beauty, that they bring to light the fraternity of strangers. – Victor Hugo