Just as you often see alongside highways, one commonly finds animals along the tracks hit by trains in the night. I came across a muskrat, another victim of a passing locomotive. The body was recently dead and I noticed a small, unborn baby muskrat in the tangled remains. I shook my head at the grim discovery and thought, “Oddly appropriate that I find this poor animal as I write my Mothers Day sermon.” I reflected on this fresh reminder of the emotionless process of evolution in nature weeding out the weak so that the strongest and smartest live on.
I suddenly heard the crunching of gravel and looked up to see an older man walking along the tracks behind me. We exchanged greetings and I told him I had never run into anyone else on the rails before. He asked, “wasn’t it terrible about that young girl?” After a second, I realized that he was talking about a 15-year old who had been struck and killed by a train last December. He went on to explain that we were standing where the accident had happened and, from the details he provided, I imagined that he could have actually discovered the body.
We talked a little more, and then he moved on. I stood staring at the spot for some time, and a deep sadness came over me. Sadness for Erika Stefan’s family and friends. Sadness for the conductor faced with the impossible task of stopping a train or alerting the girl wearing earphones and unable to hear his warnings. Sadness for the mother and grandmother, wife or partner, the woman that Erika Stefan would never become.
I finally crossed the tracks. Unable to reach blossoms on trees up the steep incline, I broke off a small budding twig. Dropping it on the tracks, I said, “Little one, wherever you are, I hope the universe treats you more kindly.” And I began the walk home.
As I walked, I thought about what I could say as a minister to a parent who loses a child, especially under such tragic circumstances. As the conversation went through my mind, a monarch butterfly flitted towards me. And as it passed, a voice inside said, “It’s alright…everything is going to be OK.” I turned as the butterfly winged passed, and found myself asking, “Is that you, little one?” The monarch just continued on past in the direction from which I had come.
I realized at that moment that Erika Stefan will never be the mother of her own children. But, for one passing moment, this young girl mothered me. She comforted me in my sadness, and reminded me that death really just represents a transition of one state to another. The universe comprises an inconceivable amount of star stuff and we are all made up of that same material that existed four billion years ago at its very beginning. Little 15-year-old Erika reminded me of the interdependent web of all existence of which I am a very tiny part.
There are times when I wish I could just take a walk and have it be just a walk. But, I guess the universe just has too many stories it wants to tell me.