Over our city falls the fog,
clouding its wintry lights,
shrouding our spirited homes
with the blanket of the night.
Over our city fog descends,
imposing a cumbersome pall,
closing our eyes so early
that our spirits, too, might fall.
Over our hearts the clouds depress,
trying to crush our zeal,
eyeing to snuff the torches
that deep inside we feel.
Over our hearts remain the clouds,
making their final play,
taking their precious time
to prod us with dismay.
But over the clouds our lanterns shine,
boasting our vigorous fire,
toasting to one another
a cheer that lifts us higher.
Over the clouds our lanterns beam,
sharing their glorious hue,
wearing with mirth and gladness
a flame that kindles true.
Over the fog our hearts blaze on,
casting aside the haze,
lasting long into the night
as far as the eye will gaze.
Over the fog our hearts will glow,
beaming throughout the town,
gleaming the light of the world
until heaven itself comes down.
We reckon ourselves great judges of beauty. We seek out aesthetics that appeal to our senses, for one reason or another. Maybe it’s a bright, joyful quality that causes our smiles to beam and our souls to radiate outward. Maybe it’s a dark, provoking undertone that forces us to pause introspectively. Maybe it’s a raw, gruesome feature that makes us want to turn away, but doesn’t let us. Or maybe it’s a universal truth, at least to our limited knowledge, revealed in some seemingly original way.
Some of us are harsh critics of beauty. We see things the way we want to see them, and anyone who disagrees is wrong. We think they should be more open and try looking at things in a different light. Others of us categorize that way of thinking as skewed, or ignorant even. We claim, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” Anything and everything can be beautiful in its own way.
In all honesty, though, we are terrible beholders of beauty. We can’t shed our own biases because we can’t step outside of them. We can’t ignore our own blind spots because we don’t know they exist. And we can’t recognize true beauty because we don’t have all the tools to see it.
Beauty does not come from outward adornment. It isn’t found among endless fields. Nor is it found within jewels or precious metals. Outward appearance is fleeting, even the flowers will wither, and the rocks of the earth will erode. But, beauty is found in the heart. True beauty is found in love, and exemplified in perfect love. And only God is capable of such love. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God is perfect in love. His love is immense and flawless. And His love is absolutely beautiful.
When he was eight years old he was given his first official job on the train. To his superiors, he had three responsibilities. One: he was to travel up and down the passenger cars, collecting tickets and fees. Two: he was to tell any and all riders when their station was the next to be reached. And three: he was to bother nobody and to get in zero trouble. In Jed’s own eyes, however, he had one, sole intention: to ride.
Duties one and two he did with relative ease. Since he had hitched a ride on so many trains before being allowed to, he knew the routes well. To inform passengers of their upcoming stops was no problem. Collecting tickets and fees was sometimes more difficult. The majority of people were peaceable and forthright, producing their tickets or coins at first request. On occasion, though, the boy would encounter a brute that would refuse to pay, either claiming he had already done so or else that he had lost his ticket. On such occasions Jed would simply summon the conductor, a man of great stature, both in size and in reputation. Little folk put up a fight with Madigan Malone, and those who did found themselves tossed from a rumbling locomotive.
In regard to Jed’s third expectation, he sometimes failed. It wasn’t borne of any sort of defiance but genuine boyhood curiosity. He generally completed his tasks with methodical swiftness, proceeding up and down the aisles to collect from and alert passengers. His goal was to finish as quickly as possible so he could return to visit the most intriguing riders, and either observe or chat with them. He rarely bothered any passengers with his conversation but rather quite delighted them with his maturity and manners. Most of them loved to spin a good yarn, and Jedediah hung on their every word with wide-eyed rapture. As a result, he sometimes fell down on the job.
Though not literally, of course. In fact, he had an uncanny ability to maintain his balance on the train. The rails were often a rough ride, jerking and jolting in almost all directions. Passengers were sometimes sent sprawling, or at least grabbing for the nearest stable object. But, it was as if Jed had his feet somehow fastened to the floor. To the amazement of everyone else, he was impervious to the turbulence that the railcars constantly experienced. It truly seemed as if Jed was himself part of the train. Probably, because he was.
Jed loved the train more than anyone he’d ever met. And, to no surprise, she loved him back more than anyone he’d ever known. It wasn’t hard to imagine that a man of his history would grow old with a bitter, calloused heart, but it wasn’t so with Jed. Sure, he was rough around the edges, and the emotional scars of his youth had left their mark, but Jed’s love of trains cleansed his soul in a deeply profound way. The locomotive created in him this odd sentimentality of romantic realism. There was no way for his past to be completely erased, but the black wounds on his heart had been significantly healed. The train and her tracks tended to him in such a way that no one else could.
Before his mother had died, his father died to him. Alcohol took the place of any emotional capacity in his father’s heart. It also warped his mind into a demented state of unrelenting rage. Both Jed and his mother suffered, mentally and physically. By sheer will they escaped that wretched hold.
His mother wasn’t an alcoholic like his father, but she loved Jedediah little more. She tried to teach him what she believed he needed to know, but she couldn’t show him love. She hadn’t received enough of it to be able to give any away. Nonetheless, she equipped her son with enough to keep a steady head on his shoulders. And he’d make do just fine.
Time was beginning to show itself in his features now. Compounded by sun and hard work, the grooves in his face had worn deeper. Oddly enough, they seemed to run in pairs, almost as tracks lay across the land. His dark brown hair was beginning to reveal spots of steely gray, too, like the stakes that project from rail ties. But Jed was none the slower because of it.
He was still sharper than most, and you could see it just by looking in his eyes. They were the most curious shade of pale blue, speckled with brown flecks, and they spoke volumes. It was as if God had given him more to say through his eyes than by his words. It’s not that he never said anything worthwhile; quite the contrary, in fact. His raspy words carried loads of meaning, but he often opted to save them for the proper time. He had this philosophy that words meant more if they were spoken less often, but he couldn’t silence his eyes even if he tried.
Although it wasn’t his own soul that was bared by his eyes; it was that he could see straight to yours. If you were worried, his soothing eyes calmed you. If you were frantic, his peaceful eyes quieted you. If you were arrogant, his eerie eyes humbled you. And if you were lost, his guiding eyes would find you. That’s the kind of man Jed was.
Like a beast it roared, bellowing smoke and shrilling its cry, frightening both those it came upon and those it carried in its belly. The beast could sneak up on no one, for the world knew to shy away from its path. Those that found themselves staring it down shrunk in their tracks, struggling to find the courage to move out of its way. Even those that were locked tightly within its jaws feared for their life. They worried whether they’d ever step foot on earth’s sturdy ground again. And if they would, they feared what part of themselves they’d lost along the way.
There was one man, however, that did not fear the beast, though his bones rattled deep inside as the train barreled down the tracks. Neither the lurching nor the jerking unsettled his soul, for the beast had been his home for more days than not.
Jedediah Baker once boarded the train, as a three-year-old boy, with his mother. He was enamored by its every aspect: the commotion of the station, the sheer size of the beast, the steam that streamed out its side, the sharp whistle, and the way it tumbled invincibly down the tracks.
Over time his fascinations evolved, but his infatuation with the beast grew into a sincere form of respect and admiration. When his mother passed away only three years later, Jed was left an orphan. His father was as good as dead, and he had no siblings. The orphanage held him captive for no more than one month before he fled. Morrison Station was a mere five miles from the home and he could hear the trains pass through, hour after hour. It was only a matter of time before the whistle called out, directly to him, he was sure of it.
He skipped onto a boxcar, explored his way from the engine to the caboose, and rode for days before being found out. He was tossed from three different trains fourteen times, but none of that would stop him. All it took was for one conductor to empathize with him, to see a little bit of himself in the boy, and that’s just what happened. Trains were still young, people still feared what they could do, and only the true pioneer braved the tracks as Jedediah did. But that’s what he was born to do.
My eyes attend the allure of every sight,
My ears heed the beckon of every sound,
My heart drifts slowly toward the mystery of the night
And so my soul is dragged along the ground.
Render me blind to the things of this earth,
Render me deaf to its countless lies,
Invigorate my heart with a purposeful rebirth
And resurrect my soul to new life.