Right after the Engine

Catherine - Tempe, Arizona
Entered on September 26, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Are we there yet? One answer is we arrive right after the engine. I’m thinking about trains, about my plan to travel soon to Copper Canyon in Mexico. When I first took this trip in the 1970’s, the ride between Chihuahua City and Los Mochis on the coast was supposed to last 12 hours, but often took 30. Maybe the Chihuahua al Pacífico Railway, nicknamed el Chepe, is more dependable now. The 400 miles of track, though, are the same, as they wind through the Sierra Madre Mountains with 87 tunnels and 36 bridges. What I do know—I’ll get there right after the engine.

Lots of things I can’t predict or control when I travel. My luggage gets to Paris but the airport conveyor belts don’t work. The plane gets stuck in the mud on a grass field in Nepal. Everyone gets out and pushes. Even though the airline is Cosmic Air, that isn’t enough, so someone comes from the village with bricks and boards to make a track for the wheels.

My mother was nearly 80 when she and some friends ended up in the dark in Tanzania during the rainy season in a van headed for the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge at the rim of an extinct volcano. The dirt road was washing out in the cloudburst. Thunder rumbled all around. Lightning struck near the van. The woman behind my mother gasped and died right then on the mountain. So, part of what I believe is that you get there right after the engine, unless you don’t.

There’s stuff I can control and stuff I can’t. What I’m thinking about is breathing with the thing—breath in, breath out. The question really asks, not am I there yet, but how do I stay centered on the journey. I’m not just talking here about travel, but about the whole, big expedition that is my life.

Don’t misunderstand. I believe in planning for travel, career, the day, the next minute. I’m obsessive about details. But I also believe in free fall, letting the thing play out as it will. If something presents a problem, well, humans are programmed for problem solving. In a crisis, I just work my steps to solve the problem and stay centered, if I can.

I have a way of being I call “sport jumping.” At the time of my divorce I imagined running toward this mental cliff I would have to leap off. I pictured growing wings to fly at the moment I jumped. I hoped not to splatter on the ground below. When I finally did leave him, the ground, in my mind, rose up to meet my feet. I just kept going. Now, I can run off the cliff that is the unknown. My life will turn out exactly the way it turns out. On the Copper Canyon train, I will get there right after the engine, whatever that means. Much will be out of my control. The ride will be the ride.