I watched the breaking news story with sadness: A train derailed and over a hundred were injured. As time progressed, the news became even more tragic as several were reported dead and many were listed in critical condition at area hospitals.
Interviews with survivors made you wonder how anyone came through this wreckage of twisted metal with their wits about them and their bodies intact.
Then I remembered a story my mother shared with me years ago. It was another train derailment that occurred during World War II.
My parents, who lived in New York City, were escorting a young female friend who was on her way to visit a soldier—her boyfriend who was stationed at a military camp in New Jersey. My parents had been married less than three years and my oldest brother had been left in the care of Grandma. The train they boarded was packed with travelers and they walked from car to car, looking for one that was less crowded. My dad looked ahead at the next car and turned towards Mom: “They’re all just as crowded. We might as well stay in this one.”
Mom, Dad and their young friend apparently found a spot to squeeze into a seat. They settled in to the noisy uncomfortable train car before it left the station. The cars lurched forward and they began their journey.
Then the unthinkable happened. Screeching metal and screams pierced the atmosphere as bodies were flung from their seats. After what seemed an endless time of terror, the train cars finally stopped, but not before massive casualties revealed the loss of many. Nearly every passenger in the car ahead—where Dad had almost taken the two women—were killed. Many were hurt in the other cars as well.
Both of my parents and the young woman received minor injuries and the worst was that their friend’s eyes became crossed from the impact. While all three survived, the terror of the incident persisted. For months afterwards, my parents experienced post-traumatic stress whenever they rode public transportation. The slightest sound that seemed unusual set their hearts racing. Eventually, those moments of anxiety lessened and finally ceased.
My parents lived for many more years and had five more children. I was the last child, born about nine years later. My dad survived to the age of 76 and my mom to the ripe old age of 99.
There was another train accident involving my family that occurred decades before this. My grandfather, Benjamin Prince, was only in his twenties and worked on the elevated rail in New York City. The shift had ended but he continued to work on the underside of a train car, making sure it was fixed. Sadly, the engineer who showed up at shift change was unaware my grandfather was still underneath when he started up the train.
This tragedy occurred less than a month after a child was conceived. My young widowed grandmother didn’t even know she was expecting her second child—my Mom—when her husband was killed.
These train tragedies remind me of two things: Our lives are fragile and God is in charge of the length of our days. It is a reminder to me that I must use my time wisely while here on earth; God has a purpose and a destiny for each of us. It also reminds me that God is watching over those whose time has not yet come and will keep us safe until that day when He calls us home. It is both sobering and comforting.
“Man’s days are determined; You have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Job 14: 5
Jesus said: “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16: 22