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The Train at Night

Photo © Tomas1111 | Dreamstime.com

According to Hasidic tradition, thirty-six “saints” (lamed vavnik) are hidden in the world at all times, holding it together through their secret good deeds. Disguised as socially marginal figures—peasants, porters, and homeless, nameless wanderers—they appear among strangers and, through their seemingly trivial actions—or even through nuisance they cause—bring about shifts in people’s perception that create community and lighten human sorrow.

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I wish I could sleep every night on a train. Not alone in a berth, but in the coach with everyone else, our seats tilted back, the long car dim. I love listening to the sound of the rails at night, that da doom, da doom, da da doom and sometimes chuh chuh CHUNG, and the way you sometimes get that little shuffling, wheezing noise, or maybe a sharp little bark like a small dog. Or a little piping noise, like somebody hiding between the coaches with a flute.

I enjoy most of the sounds the passengers make, too, when it gets dark and they turn on the little rectangular white and cobalt night lights in the ceiling—the blue end pointing in the direction of the train so nobody gets lost coming upstairs from brushing their teeth. People rustling and whispering as they get ready to sleep, dropping their pillows in the aisle, lifting up their footrests, reclining the backs of their seats.

“Put on your socks!” “Do you want some more?” People stealthily zipping and re-zipping their fanny packs, someone eating something out of a box, trying to be quiet. It’s cozy and it makes the world seem not so lonely. It would be good to sleep every n...