Screeching brakes broke the quiet morning calm. The alarming noise was quickly followed by a whirlwind of chaos as our luggage catapulted through the air with the ease of an Olympic gymnast. Coffee cups and croissants joined the fun by doing somersaults into our laps—scoring a perfect 10 for the dismount. Dodging a flying duffle bag, I looked up at my friend Keri, as we tumbled to the ground, and said, “This is sooooooo not normal!”
Travel advisory: there’s absolutely nothing normal about a train wreck in Eastern Europe.
Crisscrossing Europe by rail is hands down the very best way to experience the continent. What American can resist the enchantment of hopping on a train in Rome, falling asleep only to awaken in Paris by morning? I’ve taken advantage of this incredible rail system on each of my European adventures…London to Paris, Berlin to Munich, Florence to Pisa, and everything in between, but no amount of experience prepared me for a full-blown train wreck.
My friend Keri and I were at the tail end of a three-week when we found ourselves sitting on the tracks somewhere in Eastern Europe. I met up with Keri in Munich and from there we set out to visit the countries of Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic and France. I’d been to Europe a few times before, but this was Keri’s first adventure. So, with all of my “European experience,” I assumed the role of tour guide and sage advisor to my friend, the novice. Therefore, from time to time, Keri likes to point out in retelling our escapade that I would assure her with the phrase, “This is normal.”
“When we cross the border between Germany and Austria, be prepared…they will ask for your passport. This is normal.”
“Our french fries in France will actually come with mayonnaise instead of ketchup. This is normal!”
And indeed, everything was “normal” when we caught the early morning train to Prague. Once settled in our compartment, we placed our coffee and croissants on the table separating us. Keri grabbed her book, while I rested my head against the window, watching the countryside roll along. Lulled to sleep by the rhythmic click clacking of the old train, I was jolted awake when I felt the initial thump of wheels skidding off rail. Objects didn’t stop flying until we finally capsized onto the gravel edge.
With adrenaline pumping and eyes bulging, we stared at each other. Once we processed what had just happened and realized that we were totally fine…injury free…we laughed until our sides ached.
Our train derailed?
Did that just happen?
Finding our strewn bags, we joined the other passengers sitting outside on the tracks. Looking around after the dust cleared, I noticed all sorts of reactions that ranged from hysteria to humor. Some people dealt with the stressful situation with anger while others just waited patiently for the “rescue” train to pick us up. We took the opportunity to have an impromptu photo shoot on the train tracks…we’d need plenty of evidence back in the U.S.A. …. sure that the tale would grow larger and larger with the telling.
Today, in this retelling, I’m incredibly thankful that I had Keri by my side. She’s a great travel companion: spontaneous yet organized, laidback yet assertive when needed, able to laugh at trials yet filled with compassion. But more than that, she’s a great friend.
Remembering that moment on the tracks, I can’t help but think of how similar that scene is to this journey we call life. There are times when it feels like everything goes off track, and it is your heart that is skidding into the gravel. During those scary moments, the luggage flying in your face may land nicked and scarred among the rocky terrain of sickness, infertility, heartbreak, rejection, financial crisis, or fear. It really doesn’t matter the situation. It’s always a relief to know that there is a good friend by your side when you’re stuck, waiting on the tracks for the rescue.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NIV
In my opinion, this is one of God’s greatest blessings in friendship: the companionship that only a good friend can provide. Honestly, none of us ever really knows when life is going to go de-rail, and when you’ll find yourself sitting by the road in need of rescue. One of God’s supreme gifts in these seasons is the provision of friends. Thankfully we don’t have to sit alone…when you have a good friend, a faithful companion, you have someone with you on those tracks who says, “Okay, this is not normal. But you are not alone.”
Tell us your story. How has a good friend stood by your side through a tough life experience? We will choose one commenter to receive two copies of Marian’s book, The Girlfriends Guidebook: Navigating Female Friendships. (One to share with a friend!)