Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Curious Incident of the Train in the Night Time

This isn’t something I write about with ease; in fact as I start this, I feel the anxiety rise in my chest; my heart rate quickening. But I need to write about it.
Timing is everything. How many times do we ruin a dish by leaving it too long unattended? How often do we marvel on the wonders of bumping into someone unexpectedly, that if it had been a moment later or too soon it wouldnt' have happened? A clever tactition in karate knows all too well the impact of timing. A well-timed mawashigeri to the head can be the difference between scoring a point and being foot-swept; timing is everything.
Apprently, we can see only five percent of what is going on around us at any one time; yet we believe we are aware of everything. Locked into our own small realities, what we experience is a matter of space and time; it differs totally from someone’s else’s experience. But yet - our temporal peception can alter depending on the situation; appear to slow down or speed up, creating an altogether unique experience for the person concerned.
For me last Monday night, I had the surreal experience of time slowing down so vividly that my sight and hearing became astonishingly acute, along with my sense of smell. Then - as if someone had hit the fast-forward button, everything plunged into hyper-drive (warp-drive to be precise).
After a very hot dry Dunedin day, I biked into my Monday black belt karate class after the first day back at work for the new school year.  I needed to drink more that day, but in my job as a teacher, I simply hadn’t had time to stop. I was tired, dehydrated and also hungry. I had biked to work in Anderson’s Bay from Port Chalmers where I lived, and after karate, would bike home feeling even more tired and hungry.  After a high-energy class in the roasting dojo, during which I had lost a lot of body water in sweat, I jumped on my bike to head home via the cycle way that leads almost all the way to Port Chalmers. I was feeling exuberant and energized from having completed a challenging class, but was happy to be on my way home.  I even had a slight tail wind, making the jaunt home on a quietening evening, even more pleasureable.
I find that when I enter the space of riding home on my bike, I am on "automatic". In the mornings when I ride in, I am so much more tuned in to my surroundings - usually enjoying the early morning sun and colours on the harbour; but in the evenings I am more focused on just getting home. It’s “head down bum up” as they say.  On that Monday night it was no different although I was well aware I had worked hard in karate and I was tired.  
I am not a fan of wearing headphones for music whilst doing any form of physical activity. I want to be part of what is going on around me, rather than disconnected from it. Each to their own, but I feel headphones and music detract from the very reason I am in the outdoors in the first place. However, after battling home from work every afternoon in a head wind, with the noise of wind attacking my ears, I started to wear headphones once I reached the cycle track, in order to provide a musical distraction from the wind. This became my new norm. The music was never loud and I was always able to hear cyclists approach from behind. So - as I biked home this night, I did the same as I always did - popped my headphones in once I got onto the track, and cranked the pedals. Automatic pilot kicked in and I was on my way home. 
Until the train happened.
In one crazily surreal out-of-body moment, time was absurdly slow. It took me a split second to realise why and then the deafening roar of a train horn broke through into my closed off encapsulated world, causing everything to wind down to a slow motion experience that I have never before encountered. I smelled the overwhelmingly industrial emanation of diesel and brakes against metal; I heard a woman and children screaming a few metres away from me and then I saw the train as if it had been photoshopped into my frame of reference. It was right there....and so was I
I was cycling over the rails at Ravensbourne, where there is a fence on either side that requires a level of weaving skills without having to dismount one's bike, to get through . I had caught the right handle bar on one side as I went through and had slowed down to adjust my balance before continuing across the track.  This was my warning - I ignored it.
I never saw the train. I never even heard the train. My front wheel was on the track as the train - coming from my right - was within three metres of me. 
It was like being in the Matrix movie where everything stops and is suspended.  For a split second, nothing seemed to move, then BOOM ... without even knowing what happened, my back wheel was over and I felt a blast of air and my bike shake as the train rushed past, the horn still blowing violently  As I weaved through the other fence, the overwhelming rising of the rush coursed through my veins. It felt like it started at my feet and raced up to my brain, but where ever it started, it provoked a massive vomiting fit at the feet of the woman and her two kids, who had witnessed the whole biazarre event and were standing nearby. I couldn’t stand up. I could still see and hear the train as it continued towards the city - interestingly - considering I hadn’t even seen or heard a few moments before. 
I started sobbing as I continued to empty my stomach on the path. The woman wrapped her arms around my shoulders and held onto me. Her kids - just stood there - mouths open, watching.  No one said anything for a while and I stopped vomiting but then started shaking. I considered phoning a friend who lived just up the hill but then the thought left my head as my brain was suddenly filled with images of the front of the train, the smell, the horn; and mostly the how. What just happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen?
“Oh my god that was just awful! Are you ok? Would you like me to take you home? I can take you home, where do you live? Should I call someone?” The woman was yelling at me, clearly upset.  
I told her I just needed to sit and that I would be ok. So I sat, and she sat, and her kids sat. We sat like that saying  nothing for a while. Everything was quiet. 
I declined her offer of a ride and slowly got back onto my bike and rode home very cautiously. I never even found out her name, but it struck me how kind she had been and how timing was everything; for her - wrong place, wrong time - what a scene for her children and she, to have witnessed. I was reading a book called “The Kindness of Strangers”, and I reflected briefly on how this could be a story from that book.
I cried a bit on the way home and that night I couldn’t sleep. I worried about the train driver. The next day I drove to work - I couldn’t bike. I phoned the rail company trying to locate the driver of the train that night. I wanted to both thank him and apologise to him. I had to leave a message. I hope it was passed on. I have included here a link to a clip by Kiwirail that is hard for me to watch. At around 1.15 mins into this clip, there is footage of a person cycling across the rails. This is similar to the experience I had - so close I could feel the train. Watching this makes me feel ill - it also makes me feel like an idiot.
Timing is everything. When I biked home again this week, I looked at that place and saw the signs “Look For Trains”. I stopped and got off my bike to cross the rails.  I didn’t have my headphones on - but I do not feel they were the main cause of this; I think it was familiarity - the automatic nature by which we humans go about our daily business. I just wasn’t thinking. I was aware of little else other than my desire to get home; so much so that I did not hear or see a massive fast moving train until it was a few metres away.  I do feel the headphones offered a distraction that certainly may have contributed, but being someone who is generally very aware of my surroundings, and being deep in thought at that moment, I attribute this total disengagement to the goings-on in my head at that moment; my lack of food and water; the heat and my 'auto-pilot" mode.
We only see five percent of what is around us ... Timing is everything.

1 comment:

  1. Well written Kerensa my dearest daughter. It is easy to feel your distress and the lady’s quest to make sense of it all. Thankfully she was there to help you and not be the one to have to call 111 nor have to console her children’s distress at witnessing a tragedy. Timing IS everything and one has to acknowledge only God could make the timing so perfect. I love you; always have, always will. Mum.