Monday, January 2, 2012

On The Train

There is a little girl in the seat behind me, singing. The songs are all nonsense with a few cannibalized bits of real song repurposed into her own. She has a high, clear little kid voice as she stands at the window looking out at the New Mexican landscape.

There's snow on the ground, something I haven't seen in a long time. It coats the desert floor, the scrub brown and dead underneath its wintery coat.

A guy keeps coming over and telling me that 'he's been noticing me'. It's a train. Not too many places you can disappear to. I just smile and nod, slide my headphones on. He seems harmless, but there's something about traveling alone, the vulnerability I guess, that makes me regard him nervously.

I am on the train with a group of Mennonites. You would think that they would be the ones with Bibles out, but it's really the older Hispanic women and the young charismatic Christian women littered throughout the train that are on Bible watch. The Mennonites are too busy playing with their kids and reading fiction to commune with God.

Writing this, I wonder if my expectations about the Mennonites are solely informed by my lack of any kind of interaction with them. They seem very nice and very self-contained and really only can be marked out as 'religious' because of their dress.

I think there's just something inherently fascinating to me about devout people (of all religions - I am not singling out the nice Mennonites with any of the below). Their adherence to another way of life, another way of interacting and dressing, it's impressive - especially to someone like me who lives a very ambivalent and rootless (as far as religion) life.

I admire their determination. When that determination is applied in a positive way, a lot of good is done - but the reverse is also true. So much suffering has been meted out in the name of God.

Poor God, always the scapegoat. Even on a train, barreling through New Mexico.


  1. We can't say we ever feel 'endangered' (harsh term but you know what we mean...) when we take the train...the fact that a trainride through our entire country takes about 2 hours LOL

    never went on an inter-state trainride before ...nor have we ever had the chance to pass the time looking at the plains of anything really LOL

    hopefully you arrive(d?) safely at your destination of choise!

  2. welcome to new mexico! staying or just passing through? if you do stay, come to santa fe, it's beautiful and rich with life and culture! oh, and you could always come visit my gallery! safe travels!

  3. See, with me, people of Eastern religions fascinate me.... Hindu's especially. I was just talking to my mom about that over the time I was back East for Christmas. I don't think I could EVER be that devoted to a religion. I mean, I have Christian roots, but I am a practicing Wiccan. I believe in God, but I believe in a lot of Wiccan practices. I have like my own lil thing.

    Sidebar: its funny to me that you talk a lot about Joseph Campbell because reading a lot of his stuff and using his works as a basis of study for some of my religion classes is one reason why I felt that being true to both my Christian beliefs and Wiccan beliefs are okay. I used to think I was a contradiction, but after reading his stuff, I feel I am just eclectic. =)

    but anyways, yep definitely agree with you. God has been used for both position and very negative movements. Religion is such a touchy subject among everyone. It's crazy.

    by the way, beautiful pictures of NM. have you ever been to Arizona? If you get the chance, try to make it to AZ in the fall - about October or so.. The sunsets are to die for.

  4. If I ever see Amber Benson on a train I will have to try really really hard not to go over and say "Oh my God, I loved you in Buffy"..! But seriously, these days travelling alone is scary. I often use the 'headphone trick' to avoid interaction. Very poetic post. :-)

  5. Beautiful pictures :) Yeah, I suppose Mennonites tend to keep to themselves.... I'm from "Amish county" so I've grown up around Amish and Mennonites. Although, each church is slightly different, so I don't know if they're the same type of Mennonites that we have in Lancaster.

    And yeah, snow! Really! The west has snow... I'm jealous. ha ha. Enjoy the train ;)

  6. I travel the world alone, better the devil you don't know!

  7. "Poor God, always the scapegoat." - food for thought, isn't it?
    Great post, as always.

  8. Living in Germany, I absolutely fell in love with the trains in Europe. Even now, years after I left, I seethe silently at my country for not having a passenger rail system even one tenth as good.

  9. Religion is fascinating, its why I decided to study it. In my opinion one does not need a book to commune with God or Divinity because if God is creation (as well as destruction) then God is in everything. One can commune with God by noticing the snow on the ground, by listening to the child sing, by noticing how we interact as humans. I recognize the importance of texts like the Bible but also realize that while it might have been inspired by God, it was written by man and put together by a group of men that had their own purposes.
    Wars are fought for things like land, money, or power and have you noticed how everyone thinks that God is on their side? I also admire the devout for I would not be considered one of them. I have my beliefs but they do not really coincide with any one religion. Anyway, now I wish I had someone to discuss or debate religion with.

  10. Joe aka AmberAddictJanuary 5, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    I love the train and I can watch the world go by and sing along to Common Rotation very badly as it turns out LOL! Thankfully my friend Lucy was the on my last trip to stop me before the passengers’ started to complain. :o)

    I was up bought up with a faith however I question it often yet I lack the conviction to decided if I should try to follow it more closely or look again. I admire the Mennonites for strength of their faith and as you say as long as it’s used positively that can’t be a bad thing.

    I hope you had a safe trip to New Mexico the photos are great.

  11. i could smell the snow and the train, and hear the music from the headphones and your voice reading this post even though i read it out loud myself.
    When i was 12 i had a conversation with my best friend. her grandma was about to die but she said the old lady was all peaceful because she believed that soon she would sit next to god with the angels.
    at that moment that it occured to me that i would never believe in anything religious, and i told my friend that i envied her grandmother a little for her belief. Believers have so many questions answered for them already...we only have google and wikipedia;)

  12. I know what you mean, travelling alone can sometimes make you feel exposed :S

    I'd love to go to new mexico, your pictures are great and I'm sorry to do this but I have tagged you in my blog (it's just a stupid chain tag thing, and I didn't have many people to tag so figured I'd just tag you for fun - you don't have to read it etc!)

    happy new year missy!


  13. I agree, religion is utterly fascinating.

    Nice pictures :) I always loved deserts, something about the barren emptiness kinda strikes a chord with me. I just like that feeling of freedom and openness - and yeah, I like the heat too ;)

  14. For some reason, Mennonites on a Train keeps running through my head. A thriller, I think. No...suspense.

    Wish I knew earlier you were training through NM. I'd have gone outside and waved. (It's a little known fact that waves to a train from anywhere in the Land of Enchantment will transfer karma to any and all intended recipients. Or maybe it's caramels...though it might have been camels. It was noisy when they were telling us and, to be honest, I really wasn't paying attention.)

  15. That reminds me of the gang from "The Big Bang Theory" bugging Summer Glau on a train.

    I have an Amish contractor replacing my roof; although I don't agree with all aspects of their particular doctrine, as a group I've found them to be just plain better people than the average Joe with TV and electricity.

  16. Lovely pictures, lovely blog (although over the years I've found myself identifying as Wiccan...and I suspect I'll be an old codger in my next life before I'm properly self-initiated...I've been very grateful to the kindnesses of some openly devout Christians). And of course, happy b'day (you're 24,tops, right?;))...if you don't pay too much attention to time zones, you not only share the same birthday as Elvis, but the original Doctor Who, William Hartnell.
    As for silly old me, I not only share the same birthday (exactly 50 years apart!)as occultist Israel Regardie, but according to an early theological scholar (Clement of Alexandria)...Jesus.
    I guess you can see how becoming a fully-fledged Wiccan in this lifetime will, for me, be somewhat problematic:)
    Finally, best of luck (break a leg?) with your new webseries.

  17. I live in central Missouri, where there's a sizable population of Mennonites. I've discovered that as homogenous as their clothing may be, they are just as diverse as any group. And as with any group, there are those who are more about the outward display of their affiliation than anything internal or personal.

  18. This is lovely, Ms. Benson :)

  19. Train rides are a great way to see different parts of the country as well as a kaleidoscope of its people.

    I'm too tired to opine(r perhaps "blather on" is the more appropriate term in my case) about religion other than to say that actions speak louder than words. Anyone can talk about what they believe but its ultimately about how you live your life and treat those around you that is the more accurate testament.

    I hope you enjoyed your train ride.

    Good call with the headphones. I'll have to remember that if ever... uh I mean next time... some girl or guy approaches me on the train. Because it happens all the... fine.. it never happens.

    Anyway, good, thought-provoking blog.

  20. Beautiful post.

    There is a vulnerability in traveling alone, but also strength. I always feel, when exploring a new place by myself or eating alone in a restaurant, that I am strong, brave, and independent. (Not quite She-Ra-like, but at least Molly Brown-esque)

    Sometimes I think it's the closest you can get to being an 'explorer' these days - to strike out and do something that doesn't come as a package holiday with an "on the bus, off the bus" mentality.

    On the other hand, more than 20 hours on a train is a bit much and the creeps do seem to come out of the woodwork when you are traveling alone.

    Safe and happy(er) journeys!

  21. I have a friend who is trying to heal her scars from her former life as a mennonite. Strong minded they are. Free, less so. As a woman who wanted to go to college and maybe do things other than bake bread for her expected husband and produce children, it was stifling.

  22. A few things feed into our view of Mennonites. The main one being television and films. None of which have actual Mennonites in them, merely Hollywood's idea of what Mennonites act like.

    I've met a few Pennsylvania Dutch and they seemed somewhat conservative, but pretty normal in comparison to so called 'normal' society. The girls are still insecure and the buys are still macho. It's different of course, but not much. After all, we are ruled by our genetics.

    That being said, good for them on the spending time with their kids. I think the Mexican catholic women have it wrong. Family should come before anything else, including your religion. Religion is the epitome of selfishness. Interacting with your kids is the epitome of selflessness. But then again, I think all religion is there for entertainment like the muppets or the snorks.

  23. Interesting post. I worked as a prosecutor for many years. Years of dealings with murderers has left me with one thought: murderers have one thing in common...they all murder people. Some are religious (most violent inmates claim some sort of religious affiliation) some are not. All of them are viscious.

    Relgion is blamed for a lot of wars and oppression. However, I suspect that even without it those same people would have found some other reason to start wars or practice what amounts to simple banditry.