This is the San Bruno Station on the Caltrain line out of San Francisco.
Whenever I'm in San Francisco, I take the train from the city out to Lawrence, where my aunt picks me up. We visit for several days, talk non-stop about family, laugh in the family way, drink a little wine, make really good food to enjoy, and spend time with my cousin and his family, doing all the same things.
I like taking the train. It's a bit over an hour, and we stop at several interesting little towns along the way....San Bruno is one. Redwood City another. I always find myself thinking, now what would it be like to step off the train and decide to live in Redwood City? What would I do, where would I go, who would I meet?
It's always fun to think of various scenerios.
Five days after my grand daughter was born, I packed an overnight back, got a taxi to the train station and boarded my train down to Lawrence, headed for a few days visit. The train is relatively clean and well ventilated, and there is a double-decker level of single row seats, looking down on the regular seats below. It feels a little bit like balcony seating and sort of honky-tonk..
Our car was half empty, with the usual students, senior citizens and small families. I settled in to read, but as soon as we were under way, I had my nose glued to the window--so much to see, and great graffiti on walls as we whizzed by.
10 minutes into the ride, someone near the back of the car started yelling into his cell phone. It didn't take long to realize there was probably no one else on the other end of the call. He stopped with a snap of the flip phone, then turned to someone across the isle and began a tirade monologue about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
We could all hear the tirade and then a young man saying, "Yes Sir, you're right sir."
Then the tirade would begin again.
Lots of "Yes Sirs," and "That's true Sir." I think we all felt a little sorry for the young guy, but he was doing okay on his own, and I imagined that if anything escalated, we would have all come to his aid.
Eventually the belligerent rider got up and moved down the length of the train, opened the car door and disappeared into the next car. The energy in our car settled, and people seemed to relax a bit....until the train came to a halt between stations, between Hayward Park and Hillsdale.
We sat on the tracks for several minutes before the conductor came over the intercom.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we regret the inconvenience, but there has been a fatality on the tracks. We're waiting for the authorities to arrive and give us the go ahead to continue our service. As soon as we have further details we will let you know and we thank you for your patience."
I looked around the car and people were craning their necks to look out the windows to the end of the train. Sure enough, people from surrounding businesses along side the tracks had left their shopping, left their work, and were now fully engrossed in what was happening behind us on the tracks.
Emergency vehicles began to arrive. A policeman walked by, measuring something on the adjacent track.
Watching him walk by, I wondered what he had had for lunch and if he was uncomfortable in all the paraphernalia he had to wear. Everything seemed so tight on him. I wondered if he was married and had a family.
I called my aunt to let her know what was going on and she said, "Shoot, that's probably about the 12th suicide this year. People have been doing that a lot on that stretch. I'm so sorry. I'll see you when you get here."
As I looked out the window at people watching what was going on beyond my view, all I could think about was my beautiful 5 day old grand daughter, and how she had come into this world in the usual way, without much fuss, surrounded by love and protection and joy. I had held her when she was 30 minutes old, and my arms would always remember that. She will, I hope, have this sort of unconditional love and support all her life, and she will in turn pass it on to others, over and over again, without restraint.
And in contrast, someone had decided that this day, at 12:45 p.m., with the blue sky full of puffy clouds and a refreshing breeze, with the sun heating the tops of heads of all those who walked, would be the last day to experience any of this. And the pain as well, the last day of the pain. The last day of the anger, or sorrow, depression or bewilderment, poverty, frailty and isolation, non-love or the wrong love, corruption and the ever present fantasy of death.
The last day of any of it.
Who had this person been? Was it indeed a suicide, or an accident? Had it been someone from Hayward, or was it the belligerent guy who had been swearing into his phone? Had he jumped off the train? Could one even open the doors to take that leap? Probably not, there were most likely safety features preventing such a thing....I silently chanted the Nembutsu and hoped this soul would find its way.
We sat for an hour, with several terse intercom updates that really told us nothing, until we finally began to move on to Hillsdale station. There, we de-boarded our train and boarded another, already half full. None of us, I noticed, took a look at the wheels in the track well as we went around to board the other train. People were quiet, shepherding on another like children.
All aboard, our new train picked up speed. Around me I could hear those already on the substitute train asking questions: what happened? Did you see anything? Did you feel anything? It's a terrible thing to have happen.
My aunt understood why I was so quiet that evening, and we didn't make a big night of it. It was wonderful to see my cousin's 3 1/2 year old twins and to watch them dance a mix of hula and disco on the living room carpet, while we all laughed and clapped.
But it was an odd sensation for many days later, and is still, knowing someone had chosen this train I was traveling on to act as an agent for ending their life of suffering.