Home » Memoirs » The End Of The Line

The End Of The Line

End of the line

After her first two failures she took special measures to assure that this attempt would not be thwarted.  She chose the time and location carefully, planned it down to the final minute. This time she would leave no room for heroes.

Sent out to complete a mechanical inspection, I was given the wrong location and drove twenty minutes in the opposite direction before receiving a corrected radio communication. I never imagined she’d still be there when I arrived; nor did I expect the callous reaction of the personnel at the scene.

They were gathered in a circle reminiscing about previous experiences like fishermen reliving the time the big one got away.  Each trying to out do the other, they volleyed stories and shared half-suppressed laughs.

A police officer, seemingly unpracticed in the art of giving comfort, stood over the visibly shaken operator who sat with his head in his hands.  It wasn’t his fault. There was nothing he could have done to avoid it. She forced his hand making him the involuntary pawn of her freewill.

I climbed up into the cab to begin the inspection.  The car held dozens of anxious passengers.  Some were distraught, but most had grown impatient with the wait. Upset to learn that I wasn’t the replacement engineer, the passengers took their frustrations out on me.  One rider glared at me as I climbed back down to inspect the running gear. Maybe he thought my tardiness was the reason for the hold up; truth be known—they wouldn’t be moving anytime soon.

She had carefully studied the train schedule, selecting a morning express to Chicago. This run would obtain a speed that would require a longer stopping distance. The location she chose was a relatively isolated spot with poor street access, hampering any emergency equipment.  She squirmed under the fence and hid in a gravel depression along the roadbed. There she waited for the precise moment to make her move.

The northbound train had reached full speed in the middle of its uninterrupted run from 55th Street to the 11th Street station. With the hypnotic clickety-clack of the commuter car growing louder with its approach, she jumped to her feet and ran to the track. Lying lengthwise with her arms and legs straddling the rail, she placed her head facing away from the oncoming train.

The engineer threw the train into an emergency brake application and laid on the horn.  The brakes screeched as coffee cups and cellphones flew about the car. She remained facedown on the rail, hands pressed hard against her ears, shoulders waggling from side-to-side as the train advanced on her. The engineer watched in horror as she disappeared under the wheels. It was over in an instant. The result was devastating.

I’ve been in the presence of death before. It feels like the closest a person can come to the presence of God while here on earth. But this was different. The aftermath of this death presented a surreal mix of human behavior.

I was racked with emotions ranging from outrage at those who found amusement in her demise, to distress for the engineer who had collapsed in an emotional state of remorse.  I was unnerved by the unsympathetic passengers who continued to bark at me and tap their watches. “Come on” one man yelled, “I’ve got to get downtown.”  They paid no attention to the sad reality that this young woman saw suicide as being her last glimmer of hope.

I have to believe that within us all lives a certain measure of empathy, but somewhere along the way people seem to be losing theirs.  Could it be that humanity itself is nearing the end of the line?

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”  ~ Norman Cousins



Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström via Foter.com / CC BY

16 thoughts on “The End Of The Line

  1. Oh Gene. What a tragic story. Having dealt with three suicides at our sons’ school in the last two years, it’s front and center in our community. The thought of people being consumed by their own time demands rather than the loss of a life is heartbreaking. I agree with Norman Cousins. The things that die inside while we’re still living are huge (sometimes irrevocable) losses.

    Thank you for this wake up call. Both to be sensitive to those around me and to pray.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Jeanne. It sounds unbelievable but there were 172 railroad-related suicides in northeastern Illinois from 2004 to mid-2013. I pray we all become a little more aware of what’s going on in the lives of those around us.


  2. I think back to a time when Brandie was in high school and a friend ,a young man ,same age as her ,a class mate. the young man was at our house often . No one new of his troubles and how much he needed to know that he was loved by many . He took his life one night in a car out by the Arkansas river .Alone .No one around .I know God was the only one who knew what he must of felt to bring himself to this . When he was in the house of God ,The house was filled and people stood outside of the church to show love for this young man who never knew that he had touched the hearts of so many . This is the point of this memory ,Show people that you care and reach out to someone ! this someone could still be with us today { IF } You had !Keep up the stories Eugene ,You touch so many with your words ,I m proud to have you as a brother as I m of the rest of my sisters and other brother .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Many things have died in my own heart and mind… many of which should have… and some of which should have not.

    The repeated emotional beating and mental Brokenness that have caused the internal death of those things which contribute to one’s ability to cope leads to numbness. That numbness makes it easier to make a decision that leads to ending those supremely painful things that the numbness fails to suppress.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve often said that brokenness is the best kept secret in churches today. Few seem to know how to respond to it, so broken people find themselves left to themselves. They turn inward and live in that numbness you describe, sometimes for years. I found my way out of it by doing two things: I stopped demanding answers and started listening, and I went back to discover how God defined “good”


  4. I’m glad love hasn’t grown cold in your heart, Gene. God’s compassion shines bright through you. You’ve ministered to me in this post because I’ve lost two relatives and a friend to suicide. It’s the worst news I’ve had to hear over the telephone. One can’t forget that moment of hearing it nor forget the grief that someone could be so broken they’d take their own life. It has made me alert to signs of depression in others.
    Blessings ~ Wendy


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s