weekends out of the year, the Austin Steam
Train Association's “Hill Country Flyer" makes pilgrimages
along the way peals
of laughter may be hard emanating from filled-to-capacity cars
as the aging Flyer
and rhythmically winds upward toward 1500
sea level. (Here in
Texas, that constitutes a mountain:-) And while the
HCF's springtime run affords
a spectacular view of
grandson was so excited about riding the train, we were first in line
and among the
first to board. We watched a stream of smiling faces
soon fill our own car to capacity.
There were so many families, so many different ages, so many
ethnicities--all unified in excitement and anticipation of our mutual
rail journey. And as the train pulled out and our
began, each family began to visit with other families around
directly across from a young family from Pakistan who were making their
first HCF excursion together. Our car's porter endlessly
recounted Hill Country legends and lore, while
our children and grandchildren all played together. Yes,
we were all sharing this most unique "Holiday"
experience, one that I hoped in time might become indelibly etched in
much the whole town of
the little town of Bethlehem we were all traveling to is now but a
recreated, but for two weekends it is one alive and functioning, and
wish to enter.
as our train made its final ascent
toward tiny Burnet, the reality of all of us happily riding through
spectacular Hill Country landscape on this lovely old train together
Soon everyone would disembark, scramble to secure a seat in any open restaurant, then afterwards head over to Washington Street (where hundreds if not thousands of curious would converge) in order to participate in one of the most unique dramas ever offered by an entire town to the public, at no charge.
such a privilege, we would all (some of us, once again) stand
in the cold outside Bethlehem's gates
for an hour and a half, while busload after busload of tourists are
dropped off to stand with us in queue, the line behind us soon growing
to more than
eight blocks long, if past trips were any indication.
Once inside the gates we would find ourselves caught within a swirling river of participants flowing like rapids within this truly indescribable, heart-stopping work of love--a feat incomprehensible. And before us we behold Bethlehem within Burnet, brimming with real people and real animals--camels, donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens, geese, ducks and doves...with real Roman soldiers directing real prisoners (unable to pay their taxes) toward the town jail, past priests and bakers and blacksmiths, past innkeepers, candle makers and transients, past merchants and racks of merchandise, through homes and alleyways, walking and talking along winding dirt paths lit only by torchlight---and just when you think you're lost amid the swirling chaos, you behold the Star shining brightly o’er the village roofs, as children rush by shrieking, “Have you seen Him? Have you seen Him?”
“Who,” we ask.
“The Babe,” they shout, "the Babe!! Just follow the star...”
And so we follow.
follow, even though we now know the end of the story, and yet, somehow
successive year we anticipate going on this journey even more than
as always, there will be fresh hot
warm cookies for all who emerge from Bethlehem's gates--this welcomed
food gift also provided free to all, by the good
Burnet and members and friends of the First Baptist Church of Burnet.
having a seizure...” someone muttered. A cowboy seated near us
appeared to be
scrolling through football scores on his cell phone.
waited for a response. Nothing. I
could see the man thrashing around on the floor at the opposite end of
the car from
where our family was.
him on his side so he
choke," I shouted.
were just staring but
no one moved forward to help. Without thinking I walked across
the floor to where he was thrashing and stooped down to put my hands
beneath his head. It seemed important to keep his head still and
his airway clear. Then, supporting his head with my left arm, I slid my
soft furry hat
his head and the floor. His eyes
fluttered as he began to regain consciousness.
is going to be all right sir," I reassured him, “you are
going to be just fine...are you here by yourself?’
“My, my wife…” he moaned.
A man across the aisle pointed beside me. The woman--his wife--was kneeling down, shaking.
just fell over," said the man across the
“He must've fainted…” said the wife, though neither seemed certain what had happened.
you hit your head, sir," I continued, "did you hit you head when you
can't remember...” he said.
glanced down aware that I was supporting his head with both hands, and
realized that he was entirely covered in vomit. "Do you
hurt anywhere" I asked him, unable to see my watch to take his pulse.
I don't; think so," he answered, his voice faint.
"I just felt a little dizzy."
as to whether or not he had
injured himself in the
fall, I looked around for someone who could help us and noticed
that vomit covered his
bench seat as well as the wall by the exterior door. I tried to remove
my left arm from beneath his head to take his pulse. After
what seemed like an hour, a conductor from the next car down appeared
in our doorway and asked
we needed help, observing that our engineer
was a doctor, though an orthopedic doctor.
What took you so long, I wondered, explaining that we needed a doctor, any doctor…then with one hand free, began to take the man's pulse—it was weak and thready. The conductor disappeared into the next car.
another man, a younger one, appeared at
left shoulder. “I'm an EMT (emergency medical technician).
What happened?” He
asked as he knelt down. He obviously wasn't
from our car.
The man across the aisle recounted what he'd seen.
I was counting heartbeats...."Do you know where you are, sir” I continued.
“On the train," he answered. “How will we get home if I go to the hospital?”
EMT asked him if he had a heart condition.
“He had years ago,” his wife answered, now behind me.
“He needs to get to a hospital," I observed to the EMT.
The conductor returned to the doorway with another man. “I'm a fireman,” he announced.
Iinstructed them to call for an ambulance, and turned around to ask his wife if she had any relatives in Austin who could come and get them. “Our sons, our sons live in
conductor was scratching his head with his hat, still in the doorway,
don't know if there's a hospital in Burnet..."
9-11," I urged the conductor through clenched teeth.
turned to comfort the man's wife, “Burnet is just
a little ways from
the conductor was becoming impatient.“He
can't lie in the floor—he’s blocking the aisle!” “I'm
so sorry,” the man apologized.
so sorry,” the man apologized.
smiled. I reached once again to touch his
forehead—it was cold and sweaty. He lookedIncredibly, the conductor was
becoming impatient. so pale.
you think you can
sit on the bench? I asked. "I think so..." he
muttered as his wife reached to help us.
then the ambulance attendants burst through the door
of the lounge car and, pushing us gently aside, took over; "Can you
tell us what happened, sir?"
back to his wife, I asked her if she had been able
to reach anyone on her cell phone. “Our son is going to come and meet
us at the hospital,” she answered.
I felt my face smile again and heard my voice reassure her, “Everything is going to be fine, just fine….”
they whisked the couple away into the night,
I made my way back to our reserved seats, past all the other
passengers, still stting quietly----Americans,
Pakistanis--teachers, cowboys, soldiers, musicians--families
all around on either side of the aisle playing cards, reading
to their children, talking among themselves, and past those guys
keeping up with the ball game on their cell phones--I made my way back
to where my own family was sitting at the opposite end of the train
car. And as I sat down beside our younger son, I
realized that no one else had risen to
help us. Not one of the twenty-five or so passengers
my own family included, had offered to help.
the porter for our car arrived.
He, like all the others who worked on the Flyer, was a volunteer for
the Austin Steam Train Association. Where had he been?
Quickly he announced that a cleaning crew was on its way to “tidy up” and that, while regrettably we had “lost a couple of travelers due to their bench seat having been soiled,” he hoped we wouldn't lose anyone else. My heart pounded. Someone had the audacity to get upset because a helpless man had gotten sick on their seat?
“I'm proud of you, Momma,” came a soft familiar voice beside me.
Soon our train left Burnet for Austin. Our two hour trip passed quickly, and quietly.
morning, I called the
Hill Country Flyer reservation desk and inquired concerning the
They hadn't heard anything about a
sick passenger. They knew
As the days passed and Christmas neared, I kept thinking about that sick man and his wife and of our journey to and from Bethlehem. Soon a childhood story I had learned began to replay in my mind:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
thought about my furry hat, my beloved memento of a trip to Ireland
nine years ago -- how, if I'd had enough time to think, would
I have been so quick
to place it under a sick man's head? And
as I now write this, I
realize that what happened on
the train was a lesson for me—not in how much I did--not about my
qualification to help, but
about my willingness to
help. And I wonder, do we now live in a world that can only rise
needs of others if such a need is vividly splashed across the TV
were small signs posted along the exit gates of
now demonstrates that the One who was indeed born long ago, lived
and died in such a way as we ourselves are unable to. He also
loved as we often can not, blessing those who were the despised of
society--the sick, the lame, the blind and demon-possessed.
During His too-short life, eyewitness accounts tell how He demonstrated
mercy and compassion on many who didn't
deserve it, and loved those who called upon
who loved Him...those who would later call him, Lord.
unforgettable train ride to Bethlehem this year reminded me even more
poignantly that, at Christmas and always--but especially now as this
world inexplicably appears to be digressing into unmitigated destruction
profit or personal gain, and despite prevalent hypotheses attesting to
evolution--those special gifts that Child came to offer us one night so
long ago in Bethlehem--His life, His love, His mercy,
compassion, and forgiveness—are the only gifts truly worth
sharing with one another. We do not have to be qualified to do
so. We simply
must be willing to do so.
Poor were the first to see....
A good place to learn more about the Christmas story, or
the Parable of the
is in the Bible. (or Google them)
You may also wish to read about that parable here:
Email me if you have any
questions or comments, and, oh yes---do have a blessed Christmas.