Last Monday was the 13th anniversary of my son’s death. As grateful as I am to God for thirty years of Malcolm, my heart still hurts when I am reminded of his likes and passions. He loved funky sneakers, and I sometimes find myself telling total strangers that my son would have loved their sneakers!
It is perhaps train rides that bring Mac so close to my heart. He had a heart disease called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or HCM. I have a more mild version of it, hence the defibrillator I had inserted in May. Mac was diagnosed when he was nine years old, and when he was around twelve, we had to travel to the National Institutes of Health at Bethesda, Maryland every year up until her was about sixteen for him to see specialists who were researching the disease.
Because he was terrified of flying in a plane, the doctors suggested we take the train. It was an overnight trip, and Mac wouldn’t be on the train for more than two hours before he became restless. After we had talked and laughed with each other for about two hours, he wanted to roam the train. It never failed that he would return after a few hours with a new “friend” that I just had to meet.
He and the young boy or girl would sit next to me talking as though they had known each other for years! I so admired his ability to connect with people on a heart level so fast, something I still struggle with in my sixties.
He was in the hospital for the whole visit, and I stayed at the Ronald McDonald House nearby. I took greeting cards with me, giving him one each day with an uplifting message. He loved receiving those cards! I also took him books to read and games for us to play, when possible. I tried to keep his life as normal as possible.
On the last day of his visit, we would go to Washington, DC and see the sights, as the train back was also a night train. He was amazed to see me cry as I stood at the Lincoln Memorial. I explained to him my gratitude for the end of slavery, and that he and I could live free and be all that God made us to be, because of the words written on the statue.
It would be August when we traveled, so I had to keep him hydrated as we went from The Vietnam Memorial to the different Smithsonian museums. He loved DC, with its history and wide avenues. He also found it amazing that a black man, Benjamin Banneker, helped survey the original boundaries of the new federal district. That gave him a sense of belonging and pride.
What great trips we had on the trains back and forth across this nation. Although he would have to endure a lot of painful procedures, he never stopped smiling. He loved meeting new people and making them friends, even though he would never see them again. At his funeral, I was stunned at the number of people who attended and who spoke so lovingly of him as a friend.
A train ticket is an open door to adventure. I love hearing trains as they move down the rails, with the conductor or engineer blowing the horns. I am reminded that life is like a train ride, as we are always arriving at a destination, beginning a new journey, or riding along until we reach our destination. But, trains also remind me of the beautiful boy that I was blessed to parent for thirty years, with a smile that put the sun to shame! What I would not give for one more ride with him!