The U7 train in Frankfurt runs from Hausen to Enkheim, a journey perhaps as nondescript, as unremarkable, as any of the hundreds of commuter lines that form the lifeblood of major metro cities around the world.
But any trip is only as interesting as you allow it to be, and the U7 traverses through diverse neighborhoods that stamp their distinctive personas on the people entering and exiting the train. The Hauptbahnhof, or main station, is the only point where it is hard to make a distinction as it forces co-mingling of commuters, tourists, students and casual travelers on their way to and from connections to their eventual destinations. But if you stay on past that sea of raging humanity and make your way towards Enkheim, pretty soon you will welcome in your carriage a gaggle of travelers laden with bags of conquests from the shopping district of Hautpwache. At Eissporthale, children will trample in sweaty and tired from a game, or rush out fresh and energetic on their way to a picnic at the nearby park. And as the train ambles towards Johanna-Tesch-Platz, the stations become smaller, no more than twin concrete and brick slabs spliced open by the rail tracks, book-ended by large display advertisements. Just beyond the platform you will see dainty kiosks selling snacks, drinks and newspapers and behind them, clusters of homes, many dating back to the World War era. Your fellow travelers here will likely be simply returning home or stepping in to make a quick trip to another downstream stop at Essen where the station opens up into a huge market. Or they may perhaps be staying on all the way to the eponymous final stop at Enkheim..
Train journeys are often used as metaphors for the larger voyage we are all on: that of life itself. We embark, and working off a schedule, make our way to a destination. But the colorful lines etched on meticulous maps depicting our trip tell us little about the emotional and spatial depth of the journey itself, for we share the ride with fellow travelers: friends and strangers alike.
Perhaps an important question to ask ourselves is whether we are passengers on the train trip of our life. Are the tracks laid out, carriages rolling on time, destination neatly marked, and the journey predictably routine and but also occasionally interesting? Do companions join and leave at their pace and plan, and if you simply stay on you will eventually get to where you you’re going ?
Or are you the captain of your life? Do you steer your ship or pilot your flight, knowing where you need to go, but are focused on the task at hand and prepared to adjust to the shifting winds, the changing skies? There is none of that certainty of the hardened tracks on which the train of life may travel, but the exhilaration of setting sail or taking off and the challenge of adapting and adjusting definitely make the journey more interesting.
Whatever your travel predilection and your preferred metaphor, perhaps the best journey is one undertaken by “planes, trains and automobiles” for the greatest distances we travel are often through the pathways of our minds and hearts.