The Train Ride
"I feel I was meant to see you"
A few months ago, I was on the train riding into the city. The time of day, the location, the route—it was entirely random. It wasn’t my usual commute, and a series of serendipitous events had me there.
A man sat down next to me. I glanced up to see he had a mask on. I looked away. A few minutes later he was texting on his phone. I saw the word cancer, and the same of a city. I turned away. My brain kept clicking, and made a connection. I looked at his eyes.
“Yes, how do you know?” he turned to me. He looked into my eyes.
“Oh I am sorry, I didn’t recognize you because I have never seen your face.”
“It took me a minute as well,” I said.
The train chugged along. We had 30 minutes to the city.
The light flooded the cabin, falling across the seats, and our legs. It was a crystal clear California day.
I had cared for him several times before, when he had been hospitalized. He was technically my colleague’s patient— went to his clinic, not mine— but we connected during visits when I was the inpatient attending. This morning, he was on his way for a referral for a very specific medical procedure.
I wished him luck at the appointment. He told me he was nervous about it. What did I think? Was it worth it? I said he should view this appointment as a chance to get information, and not make a final decision. I told what questions to ask. He typed them into his phone.
Then the conversation turned to travel, to the last few years before COVID. It turned to growing up. We were both from the midwest— similar towns— set apart 3 decades. The train chugged along.
The conversation turned to health— how fragile and how delicate it can could be. How one day you can feel fine, and the next day, facing the hardest diagnosis of your life.
He asked me the eternal questions about cancer. Where does it come from? Why does it exist? And why me? And as the train rocked, I told him, my thoughts, about cancer and it’s origins. And ultimately how randomness is a word we use, but what does randomness really mean. Humans are wired to see stories, but our lives are stochastic. How can we feel randomness. He told me he had been a student of eastern philosophy, and my thoughts resonated.
The sunlight had warmed the car. The scenery was divine. Green mountains; houses; the rare farm. We zipped through tunnels and the city approached.
“My stop is coming up, Dr. Prasad”
“Yup,” I said
“Anyway, I am really glad I ran into you. I was nervous about this appointment”
“You have the right questions”
“It feels like it was meant to be. I was meant to see you today.”
And, the train pulled to the station, and he got up, and gave me a wave, right before the doors opened, and closed.
*not his name