Railroaded: Lessons from Terre Haute, Indiana

On a hot August morning, we sit in our Subaru at the intersection of US 150 and Railroad Avenue in Terre Haute, Indiana. Our kids blissfully sing Dua Lipa from the backseat as my husband and I, trying not to explode with frustration, scrutinize the seemingly endless stream of CSX train cars passing in front of us. We’re late to meet his family, and this is the second time today that we have been railroaded.

If you grew up in an American small town that did not build a bridge over its train tracks, you are familiar with what it means to be railroaded. You know that this sitting and waiting—perhaps at one point in your life blaring Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” or Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” or belting out Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”—this interminable staring and waiting is an inevitable part of daily life.

We’re headed out to the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a working and teaching farm that is run by the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, in West Terre Haute. We’re scheduled for a tour of their organic vegetable, herb, and berry farm, to hold the hens, and pet and feed the alpacas.

The Sisters of Providence, founded by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, is a Roman Catholic congregation of women, who “joyfully live out the radical Gospel message of love, mercy, and justice in today’s world.”

They are dedicated to “helping those who might otherwise be forgotten”—advocating for criminal and immigration reform, climate change, and gender justice. In addition, they are involved in organic and sustainable farming and teaching others how to be good stewards of the Earth.

The railroad line dates to 1847 when the Indiana Legislature chartered the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad. This same railroad line—which originally connected Terre Haute to Cleveland and Pittsburgh—allowed for the movement of products, people, and ideas both in and out of Terre Haute. Ironically, it put Terre Haute on the map!

But I am not thinking about the railroad line’s history. I am taken with the passing train cars, worried that my husband’s family is standing and waiting in the hot sun.

I am a former English teacher, living with MBC, so it is no surprise that I begin to analyze the symbolic significance of being railroaded. My kids tell me it’s not that deep, but maybe what I realize is informative to your life, too.

Being railroaded:

  • Invites me to ground myself, take a deep breath, and enjoy the beauty of what’s right in front of me: SKSRT painted lightning bolt letters in green-blue and white; REPS painted in white and black shaded puffy letters; or GRAPHIKS painted in light blue with dripping snow-white splotches.
  • Embodies impermanence. One minute VANISH, painted in blue serif font with a black outline against a light pink backdrop, is front of me, the next minute it is gone.
  • Makes me realize that some of us are like train cars, covered in paint and graffiti tags, while some of us are completely untouched. There is such a diversity to our individual lived experience, yet like the train cars, we’re all connected.
  • Offers a way to let go of control and be in the moment. I am at the will of the passing train and have no idea where it might end, so I might as well enjoy this time.
  • Shows me there are always two sides. There is one side of the tracks, where I am sitting right now, and the other. And even though I cannot see the other side, it still exists and deserves recognition.
  • Suggests I get creative and explore alternative routes. Once I take time to breathe into the situation, I may see that there is more than one way around.
  • Offers me an opportunity to roll down the window, turn down the radio, and settle into rhythm of the passing train cars. Perhaps I will hear the deep resonant hum of the universe’s energy moving all around me.

The Sisters of Providence, God’s social justice and ecological warriors, live on beautifully tended grounds that “look like a little piece of Europe plunked down in the backwoods of Indiana.” It’s hot, yet the trees extend a beautiful shade, and despite being railroaded, I am now consciously aware that I am no longer frustrated but excited for our day.

4 responses to “Railroaded: Lessons from Terre Haute, Indiana”

  1. Your Providence nuns are my Franciscans. Fighting the good fight. Good, strong, grounded women. Not too many of them left. You would adore my friend Marie Lucey. Testified before Congress, witnessed in El Salvador, worked against human trafficking. Glad you got to llama or alpaca. ❤️

    Sent from my iPhone

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