All Aboard the Crazy Train! I never heard that term before—the crazy train. My first encounter was during one of my early sessions with my grief counselor, a charming middle-age woman with a soft voice and very hard facts.
She used that term to describe events, ideas or habits that militated against my abilities. This had a more universal appeal to me because it did not cover just my abject loneliness from my wife’s death in October of 2016, but also addressed my ability to fight my way through the jungle of despair, ignorance and silly ideas that prevent me from finding the inner peace that seldom has taken up lodging in my soul.
The Crazy Train has been running and stopping at my door since I was a little boy. And like a fool I would more times than not, get on and ride it to the end of the line where I would often have a hard time finding my way back.
I could hear its rhythmic rumbling in the distant layers of my soul virtually every time something good was happening to me. Without fail the Crazy Train seemed to find ways to make me anxious or fearful of that good. As a consequence fear and anxiety were my constant companions on the journey of my life. I was always happiest when things were over and they had worked well. This often provided me with a secondary sense of joy where I could relive, again and again, all those wonderful moments. And the best things were usually special gifts from God that I had not anticipated.
Recently I had been trying to help an old friend, a woman whose husband died over six years ago, deal with the constant pain of his death. Over the course of our relationship, I developed some very strong feelings for her. She sent me a quote from the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tze that said those who live in the past are depressed and those who live in the future are anxious. He must have anticipated the two of us 2,600 years ago. The future has always seemed more desirable for me because usually nothing was going on in my present.
The most memorable evening of my life occurred in 1999. I was named as that year’s recipient of the Birthright of St. Louis award for special service and devotion to caring for women in crisis pregnancies. The dinner was slated for December 6th, which just happened to be my 56th birthday.
I had purchased three tables and so there were approximately 29 members of my family and friends, who had assembled to celebrate me individually and the organization in general. In addition, I estimated that there were 700 other guests at my gala birthday party. Birthright is all about giving birth and its aftermath. The coincidence was almost mystical in its application.
But just to put a big damper on a quick trip of my train, it gave me the farfetched idea that Wouldn’t it be just great if legendary sports broadcaster, Bob Costas could be there that night? Bob and I have known each other since he first came to St. Louis, as a virtual unknown in 1973. Since he was also from Long Island, I contacted him and we spent the day in and around my home.
When his career took off because of his consummate talent and his commanding personality, so did the demands on his time. My wish could have emanated from the fresh fact that he was to speak at the Holy President’s Dinner later that month. Since I was a member I knew I would run into him there. His main job was with NBC and at that time, he worked for its president, Bob Wright, a fellow classmate of mine, in the class of 1965.
A number of my cousins came in for the dinner and when they did visit me, I always took then out to see Bob’s home, where I would joke that they put up a gate to keep the likes of me away from his neighborhood. When we got there, the gate was open. One cousin beseeched me to enter. When I tried the gate immediately closed. I said, Darn he saw us!” Sometime that day, I silently prayed that Bob’s wife was a member of Birthright and just maybe he would be there.
At the dinner that night, we got there a little after the cocktail hour had begun. As I entered, vowing to have nothing to drink, whom should I spy leaning against pillar and holding court but Costas. I went up to him and in an instant I realized he had no idea that I was the honoree. I didn’t tell him.
So the dinner begins and they introduce me. Though I am known as a compulsive talker, they said I had four minutes and that’s how long I spoke. I was given the Monsignor James Hartnett Award. Monsignor Hartnett was a wonderful priest and happened to be the pastor of my parish for 19 years. I mentioned how honored I was to be given an award named for him because not only had he baptized my third child, but more importantly he had introduced me to Stan the Man Musial.
With my magic moment now completed, I sat down and nearly collapsed as Bob rushed over to me and got nearly down on a supplicate knee to apologize for not acknowledging my honor. Later in the bar area where my party reassembled, he came over and visited with my people. I do not remember if I slept that night at all. But I do know the Crazy Train did not stop at my house that night.
There have not been too many other moments in my life where everything was perfect. I probably have traveled over a million miles on that train during my lifetime. And the reason I keep buying a ticket, and believe me they can be very costly, is because I have proudly tried to micromanage the events in my life. I dream of what I would like to happen. Then I get fearful that it will not go the way I want and what does happen is often much better than I wanted.
God’s will be done and there is nothing I can do to change it. I actually was responsible for helping the woman above conquer her Four Horsemen of her Apocalypse—Fear, Grief, Depression and Despair. She said she owed it all to me! I could not have been happier for her. But my emotions got the better of me that morning and so I hopped on the Crazy Train, which was stoked and ready for me all morning. Were they glad to see me! Consequently, I probably ruined our relationship and even our long friendship.
This is the deep flaw in my soul or what Scottish philosopher David Hume called the twister timber of mankind. In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul underscored the essence of the Crazy Train when he lamented: For the good that I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do. It is the universal story of wants versus God’s plan for each one of us. If we listen very carefully, the Crazy Train is always running right by each and everyone of us’ doors. The secret is first to not get on and let it fly by or if you do, you must ride it to the end of the line. That is how life works…at least for me.