Trains, angels and miracles

I write a lot about miracles. My first novel, “The James Miracle,” published in limited-release in 2004, was about an angel who appeared to save a marriage. My most recent novel, “The Seventeen Second Miracle,” published last fall, is about the mini-miracles we perform for one another everyday.

Many of the books in between, even without “miracle” splashed across the cover, deal with similar themes. I like to believe miracles, performed by both man and God, are more common than we recognize.

My mother would agree.

Recently, my mother and sister took a cruise to the Bahamas. Mom was comfortable with the flight to Miami, the gigantic ship, even the kayaking excursion my sister conned her into during one of their island stopovers.

What worried her was the three-hour train trip alone from her home in Charlottesville, Va., to Union Station in downtown Washington, D.C. Because of logistics, Amtrak became the best option for getting mom and my sister connected for their flight south.

When the day arrived, Mom stood nervously next to her heavy bag as she waited for the northbound train to roll into the station. “Please send me an angel,” she prayed.

The train, already full of passengers from points southward, arrived right on time, and Mom lugged her bag on board. She hunted for an open seat. “Is this taken?” she said, pointing down.

“No,” a young man answered. Then he immediately stood to help Mom stow her carry-on in the train’s overhead bin.

She sat next to him. They exchanged a smile, and the first sense of relief cooled her anxious nerves.

Mom thanked him, probably with tears in her eyes, and promised not to bother him during their ride to Union Station. She doesn’t recall exactly what he said next; she only remembers feeling that a prayer had been answered.

He was her angel.

Over the next three hours, Mom learned this young man was from Puerto Rico and was studying at George Washington University.

He learned how to play my mother’s favorite game, FreeCell, on the laptop he’d slid between them.

She learned that her new friend had been visiting friends in North Carolina and was headed back to campus in D.C.

He learned Mom was headed on a cruise with her only daughter, a mother of six from Maryland who most certainly deserved the break.

She learned he’d been raised well.

When they arrived at the famed Union Station in D.C, her friend insisted on carrying her bag and walking her outside to the appointed meeting spot. When my sister pulled up, the young man said goodbye and walked back into the train station to board a different train for his stop across town.

My sweet mother doesn’t remember his name. She only remembers how he well he cared for her. She has no other way to thank him, nowhere to send a plate of cookies or a card; she only has the memory of a young man from Puerto Rico who treated her as if she were his own mother.

Recalling the experience to me, mom knows her nameless friend wasn’t some light and pixie-dust angel. He didn’t have wings and he didn’t cure her arthritis. He was nothing more than a good man living his life with his eyes open and his soul tuned in to the needs and circumstances of people around him.

Her friend from Puerto Rico may never discover this column. But if he does, I hope he knows how grateful that funny little lady on the train was for his gentle kindness. Her children are grateful, too.

Perhaps he doesn’t believe in miracles or angels, but he should know a woman in Charlottesville, Va., sure does.

And so do I.

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