Thursday, November 19, 2009

Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad

I took this photo when visiting my childhood home in Milledgeville, PA, a few years ago. This is the country road to what was my grandma's farm when I was a kid. It's no longer in the family now.
This picture seems symbolic as I reflect on the long and bumpy road where my life has led me.
There was a time when I knew every bend and tree along this dusty dirt road to my grandma's. I knew nothing, however, about the world beyond it.
I had no way to visualize back then what my life would be like in 2009 as I near my 60th year. It was incomprehensible to me then, as a child.
But even a year ago, I could never have foreseen my present reality. Being so alone and sad is nothing I would have dared to contemplate.
Some people by my age have already made out their wills, planned their funerals, bought scenic cemetery plots and plenty of life insurance. My husband and I never did. Neither one of us could bear to think that far ahead. We didn't realize our end was so close at hand.
I've come a long ways since my Milledgeville days, but I've made even greater strides since just this past June. That's when my husband, my forever love, suddenly died.
Here's a picture of us at a high-school dance in 1969. Forty years is a long time.
For several weeks after his death, I didn't want to live. I just couldn't see how I could. When I tried to visualize a future without him, it was blank.
Jack Daniels and Marlboros were my main sources of comfort. Their effects on my nerves were welcome; their familiar smell and taste reminded me of my husband. I was also attracted to their dire consequences of fatal disease. When I heard on TV that smoking one cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life, I ran right out and bought a carton.
I was consoled by well-intentioned folks who said that when God closes one door, He opens another. I thought, "Sure he does. But when?" I'm beginning to see it happen, finally, in my life since I started this blog.
It was hard at first. I'd have to sober up enough to write. Then I'd cry as I read what I'd written, wondering if anyone else would ever read it. But I felt I had to do it. I was being pushed by an invisible hand.
Now I'm receiving support from people all over the country. Let me take this opportunity to tell each of you this right now: Your words are a kindness I can feel. They're flowing like a healing elixer through my veins. I don't need any whiskey anymore. The nicotine will be gone soon, too.
There's a song in my heart tonight from my early days in rural western Pennsylvania. It seems appropriate to end this post with the lyrics, which ring as true today as when they were written 100 years or more ago. I'd add the familiar tune on this page, too, but such tricky widgetry eludes me yet. You can go to my Profile page and click on "audio" to hear the tune, if you'd like.
It's an old-time gospel song, a bluegrass classic, I guess you'd say. It's long been one of my favorites. Maybe you've heard it. It's called "Life's Railway to Heaven," by Charles D. Tillman:

Life is like a mountain railroad,
with an engineer that's brave,
We must make the run successful,
 from the cradle to the grave;

Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels,
never falter, never quail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
in our praise forevermore.

You will roll up grades of trial,
you will cross the bridge of strife;
See that Christ is your conductor
on this light'ning train of life;

Always mindful of obstruction,
do your duty, never fail;
Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Right on, Mr. Charles Tillman. Amen, brother.


  1. Now it is me with tears in my eyes Donna. Wish I could give you a big warm hug. None of us knows, or can know what it's been like for you, so I won't even pretend I understand. But this much I know. You've come through the darkness my friend. The light is still there, as well as love and breath, and with each day, and each step, you will feel less burdened and more alive again. A heap of blessings be upon you as you continue your journey.

  2. Good Morning Donna!

    I feel strength in your post today, and although there might not be a swagger in your step, something is humming with a little more pep. It's there in your words, and the song that is in your head. You never know what stranger, or even new blog friend, might be comforted by in what you write, how you express the experience of your day, sing praises or rant at the place you find yourself. Trust that God and the universe are connecting you somewhere, to someone. I have no doubt that days are coming when the light will be more apparent than darkness, and your heart will feel bold again. Keep the faith, be who you are, and know that you've got company.

  3. Thank you for sharing this experience. I have no idea how I might react to such a situation, but I suspect it would be much like yours.

    I remember that song from my childhood and was surprised that I remember every stanza although I haven't thought of it in years.

  4. Donna--so you're a western PA gal? I will look up Milledgeville, PA.
    My daughter in law comes from Eighty-Four--how's that for a picturesque name.
    Old time gospel hymns have a way of cutting through to a truth, don't they.
    I don't think I would tell someone in your situation that God closes doors and opens windows. Nope--I do not accept that God engineers our sorrow just to show us a different view. That's too capricious for me.
    But I do believe God is with us through sorrow--I pray it is so with you.

  5. I've always loved that song. It's funny, just recently I've found myself singing a lot of the old hymns I used to sing growing up in a deep-country Baptist church (my daddy was a preacher). The older I get, the more I recognize how much truth can be found in the most simple words---that the simple is often most profound. And there is a purity and poetry in those old gospel hymns that draws me in and comforts me.

  6. Donna, what a beautiful picture and beautiful lyrics. I love old gospel hymns and you're right. This one is so true. You're very brave and I'm sending loads of hugs from northern Virginia. Can you feel them?

  7. Donna...Genny and I have the state of Virginia covered...I've got
    ((hugs)) coming your way from Southern Virginia. I know that nothing makes the hurt go away.....but please know that there are those of us here in blogland that would like to do just take your hurt away.

  8. Hi Donna,
    My sister Jayne advised me to peek in on you, and here I am peeking! I am not a blogger, but I am a feeler. I cannot fathom the magnitude of your loss Donna. It's just beyond what anyone should ever have to endure, and I am so sorry that your life took this terrible turn. Life has a way of doing that, taking turns that we never see from beyond. I am so intrigued by your animals. I am such a dog lover, and your breed is one of the most proud and majestic of them all. My life took an unexpected turn 2 years ago when I left my husband of 15 years behind to enjoy his dalliances. I was blessed to move into a house next to a woman who happened to have 2 fabulous Siberian Huskies. I ended up building deep bonds with each of the Huskies, and they were truly a tremendous part of my own healing. I used to joke and tell my neighbor that I really needed to pay her for the therapy that her dogs were providing. God blessed you with those wonderful animals, and I know that they have provided solace. I cannot wait to read more about them.

  9. Donna you touched my heart with your post today, the picture and it's symbolism is so beautiful. I know from fact that you will receive so many blessings from your blog friends, just as I have. We will all be there for you, from all parts of the world to see you through and watch you grow. My love to you and your beautiful dogs.

  10. After reading thru several of your last posts, I am encouraged by you. You have been walking an amazingly difficult road, and yet are continuing on just like the songs says. Sometimes I think it is the trials that we have to go thru, are what allows us to be helpers to others when they have to start on the same road.

    Praying for God's continued blessings in your life as you "roll along down the track'

  11. Hi D,
    Just checking in. The photo of the dirt road leading to your Grandmother's house is awesome. And Life's Railway to Heavon is one of my favorites....I have it on CD....Johnny Cash and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band? Some such. It's SO good....gonna have to dig out that cd...blow the dust off and listen to it again.
    You're in my prayers, my friend. In my heart and often on my mind. I hope things are on the upswing. Take care. And hang in there!
    (((Hugs))) ... rjn (Just one of the Riley bunch!)

  12. Donna,
    I lost both my parents, and lately I've been finding "The Old Folks at Home" (Stephen Foster--love him) come into my head. I've also lost three dogs in recent years (one in July). It sounds like you've come out of what I call "that dark place." Your dogs are beautiful. My grandmother was from Germany, and she called them "police dogs." She had a beautiful one, and we've had GS mixes over the years. I now have a wonderful collie. Sending healing blessings your way, Gayle


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