For the Train People

commuter train - Phil Martin Photography. © Loyola Press. All rights reserved.

“For the train people.”

The street crossing altered the hum of the railroad ties underneath us. I looked up at the change in rhythm and noticed graffiti on the side of a building. What did the artist mean, “For the train people”? I wondered if it were painted in the dark of night or in early morning. Did it appear the week before, but I only noticed it today?

I felt an odd connection to the stranger who left that note for me and the other passengers. Perhaps God was trying to tell me something. Today I was spending my morning ride trying to pray.

A commuter train is a great equalizer. Social hierarchy is irrelevant when seats fill on a first-come, first-served basis. A homeless man safely napped; a student focused on an assignment; a businessman reviewed his laptop as he prepped for a high-powered meeting in the big city; and a toddler bounced with glee simply looking out the window next to her nanny. We were plucked from one city and plopped in another 45 minutes away.

For a moment, we were together, but were we a community? Did we notice, care about, and even pray for each other?

On the platform waiting for our morning train, which one of us first smiled at the other and said hello? After a year of exchanging a few sentences, Claire and I became casual friends. We knew plenty about each other. Once our train arrived, we honored the sacred silence and sat in separate cars.

On the way home, I spent weeks nodding to a man and smiling before I finally learned the reason he looked so sad each evening. He visited his wife of 52 years in acute care and hated leaving her. From then on, he smiled whenever I approached, and we talked of many things, including his childhood in Holland. Then one day, he wasn’t there, and I never saw him again. Our tracks no longer crossed. Had his wife died? It hurt to lose this casual friend. I was tempted to stop bothering to get to know people.

“For the train people.”

What if Christ wrote that message on the wall, to remind me to see and care for others despite differing politics, health, occupations, aspirations, worries, homes, and the architecture of our lives?

So many people travel on different tracks. So many mysteries about the lives of us passengers! And some anonymous graffiti artist mattered to me, inspired me, and will never know it happened.

It was the hand of God, who can use anything to get noticed, and does.

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Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.


  1. A God wink for me today.
    I love to paint.
    I’ve been struggling with what to paint these days and in the middle of the night, I heard the word, “trains.”
    We travelled out west on trains every summer, with my mom gram and cousins. No dads came along.
    Oh what memories!

    Always intrigued by the graffiti artists too, I often wondered their message.
    Now I know.
    Thank you for writing this.

  2. Loretta, I love your final line in this reflection, “It was the hand of God, who can use anything to get noticed, and does.” We only have to pay attention – be present – in order to see God everywhere. The message that we are all connected, even if we are strangers on a train, and that God is with us everywhere resonates with me. Thank you for sharing your evocative writing and your insights.

  3. Thank you, Loretta. I simply weep when I read your postings. You have a beautiful way
    of making your spiritual experiences seem like they are my own. I can just follow along
    with you and “see God in all things”. I regret that some many times I have missed God’s
    message to me when all I had to do is notice, be aware of it. God bless you for reminding
    me to look for His Face.

  4. LOVE IT! When I lived in the city long ago I loved Watching the slogans written on walls and on sides of other passing trains. SOME laughable, Some Angry and many requiring lots of Thinking about. I thought how much danger they put themselves in. As for the passengers, well unless you were always on the same train, watching their faces was a treat. Now everyone is probably on their mobiles or earplugs in listening to heaven knows what. Long past those good old days. Thank you for reminding me of better days, long ago.

      • Lovely story of life. Very Biblical I thought of denial of self and love of others. Praying for them. Very inspiring to appreciate our surroundings no matter how mean they seem and using them to think thoughts of the Divine.


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