01 Jul That Small Not So Still Voice
This chapter is devoted to hearing that small still voice; the one that normally does not insist that you listen to it, rather it comes with valuable information that you often realize was important in retrospect. It usually comes, unformed, as an impression, a flash, or a fleeting thought. Then later you say to yourself, “Oh, that’s what it meant. I knew I should have…” This voice is different from the loud internal radio station, WKRAP, that plays those oldies and not so goodies, the records of how you can’t or aren’t good enough – the records you would eagerly smash if you got the chance.
In the following story, our friend Ty is presented with an undeniable opportunity to really listen to himself. Persistent by nature, Ty’s intuition was also persistent to get him to finally take action, even though he did not believe in “that sort of thing.”
Ty, a down to earth fellow in his mid-forties, has apple pink cheeks and the blush of youth. A farmer by trade, he spends his days tending his animals, preparing feed, managing workers, repairing machinery and basically keeping the farm running day-to-day. He once told us with a rueful grin that his animals would all have to up and die in order for him to take a proper vacation…we guess this is actually true.
Ty went to school and earned a degree in business and finance but chose to go back to the farm, like his father before him. As an only child, he has taken over running things on the family farm in Boring, Oregon. People might underestimate him because he is so humble, with a ready laugh and genuine interest in things, allowing him to ask questions in a guileless manner that others might find embarrassing. But if you were to sit down one day and have a casual chat with Ty, you would see the genius that is quietly sitting behind his kind eyes and his soft features.
As a man with dirt beneath his nails, Ty would be the first to tell you that he doesn’t think of himself as particularly intuitive, unless it’s the type of intuition that comes from years of experience – such as how to vary the feed or which antibiotic to use when his animals are showing signs of illness. So you can imagine his surprise when one frosty October evening he had a very peculiar dream. While he was sleeping, a voice came to him and very clearly said, “Return the trains.”
Watching his wife softly breathing beside him, Ty thought, That’s odd. What could this mean? It was such a specific instruction and it seemed so clear in its intent. But, he didn’t understand it.
At work that morning the words, “Return the trains,” came back to him so he tried to guess the meaning. But as he became involved in the long hours and heavy work, he put it out of his mind until a few days later, when the dream came again. It was just as specific and equally as frustratingly vague. “Return the trains,” it commanded. Awakened in the pre-dawn hours, he lay in his bed and pondered the meaning.
Ty realized that the theme of trains, in general, did have meaning for him. He’d had a fascination for trains as long as he could remember, starting when his grandfather gave him model trains. He had adored them as a child and still cherished them as an adult. How can I return these trains? Ty wondered. His grandfather was long since dead. Ty also likes real trains. When he was just a boy his grandfather took him to the train yard. With his small hand clutched in his granddad’s enormous one, they would watch the trains pull in and unload grain and timber. The hoot of a night train’s whistle still brought a nostalgic pang to his belly and occasionally a fluttering in his chest. But these trains were long gone; just phantoms of memory that could not be returned.
Being a practical sort, Ty dismissed the voice in his dreams and went to work. There was plenty to keep him occupied and at night, after spending the evening with his wife, he gratefully sank into bed. But sometime during the night, the voice came again. “Return the trains,” it insisted.
Now this was getting annoying and kind of weird. Keeping the nocturnal auditory visits private, he wondered what it could mean. It was then that Ty remembered his Uncle Clyde and his cousin, Clyde’s son Jack, who had also collected trains when he was a boy. Jack, now in his late 50’s, had also been an only child. When Ty was young, his cousin, ten years older than he, sometimes babysat him and they would play trains together. But that was a lifetime ago, before Uncle Clyde died from a brain tumor.
Early in the morning, Ty ruminated on the last time he saw his uncle alive. It was in 1984 when Uncle Clyde was close to death and in hospice care. He had visited him in the upstairs of Clyde’s old home. Even though his breathing was labored and his face was pale, his uncle was glad to see him. Ty was glad he had made the effort to go. The families were not particularly close. There had been no major falling out – it was just the way his folks were. Ty had not seen Jack for several years. When he came in, Jack was at his father’s bedside. A full Colonel in the Green Berets, he looked fierce in his lace up black boots and military uniform. Ty was impressed with the powerful man he had become.
“What are you doing here?” Jack had snapped. “Get out of this house. I never want to lay eyes on you again!”
Jack had looked like he meant it and that he had the means to back up the implied threat in his words. So, apart from the funeral a few days later, Ty had not seen his cousin in nearly two decades.
Suddenly Ty remembered one train in his extensive collection that he had not bought and neither had his grandfather. There was one Lionel in mint condition, still in its box, that had once belonged to Jack. When Ty was 13 and Jack was 23, his Uncle Clyde had deemed that Jack was too old for toys and had carelessly given the train to Ty and never thought of it again.
As Ty lay in his bed that night, he realized that yes, there was one train he could return. In the light of day, however, the farm demanded that he get to his chores so he put it out of his mind.
It seems that the mysterious voice had other ideas. It intruded on his sleep now every night, getting more specific. “Return the trains,” it commanded, “by Christmas!”
Thinking back on it later, Ty realized that he was a little cranky during that time, from having broken sleep. It was almost like having a young child in the house who didn’t care whether or not Ty needed sleep or if he was dead tired from a hard day. The voice called out to get his attention and to spur him to action. But Ty was dragging his feet. He didn’t believe in supernatural phenomena, you see. He believed in practicalities: animal husbandry, the earth, the seasons and such. So he put up with the noise and lack of sleep and went about his day with the kind of stubborn determination that helps a farmer make it though lean seasons.
New Year’s came and went as winter turned the corner and headed into spring. But the voice was not finished with Ty yet. It, too, was determined and keeping pace with the calendar, it began to wake him again. “Return the trains,” it said. Now there was a new instruction. “Return the trains by Easter!”
Eventually Ty thought, Enough is enough. The Saturday afternoon before Easter Sunday, Ty placed the box with the little train in a brown shopping bag. He donned a red pullover, khaki pants and a pair of clean work boots and whistled to his chocolate Labrador Retriever, Hershey, to come along for moral support. As he got ready to climb into his truck, Ty was struck by a thought, What if he doesn’t recognize me? It had been 20 years after all. Actually, Jack lived in Boring, Oregon also and it seemed slightly odd to him that their paths had never crossed in all that time.
Ty considered everything he knew about his cousin, things that had drifted down through casual familial conversations over the last 20 years. Ty knew that Jack had been willed Clyde’s home and that Jack was retired from the military for a number of years. He also knew that Jack volunteered for some of the local charities and organizations, such as the Boy Scouts. Other than that, he didn’t know Jack’s habits or schedule. He didn’t know if he was even in town. All Ty knew was that, if possible, it was time to quiet the nocturnal voice.
Ty decided to leave the truck at home and take his mint condition, 1978, persimmon colored, 280Z sports car for such an important a trip. As he backed it carefully out of the barn, he remembered that this was the car he drove the last time he saw Jack. Maybe it would spark some recognition in his cousin.
Pulling up the fir-lined drive, the house looked very much like he remembered, although maybe a bit smaller. He held the bag by the handles, told his dog to stay, and climbed out of his Z, taking in the rambling porch, the sloping lawn, the azalea bush with tight pink buds.
Resolutely, Ty climbed the house steps, the slanted afternoon light leaving a long shadow in his wake. He knocked on the door, his pulse quickening as he waited. It wasn’t long before the door swung open and there stood Jack, looking a little older and leaner, his military bearing showing even when wearing a t-shirt and faded blue jeans.
Jack’s eyebrows lifted almost to his hairline as he blurted, “What are you doing here?” Oddly enough, it was the same thing he’d growled at Ty 20 years before, just upstairs from where they were now standing.
At this moment, Ty really didn’t want to be where he was, standing on the porch in the late afternoon sun with the faint smell of pine wafting on the breeze and his dog waiting patiently for him in the Z. However, he knew this was where he had to be, for things seemed to crystallize as he thrust forward the large brown shopping bag that held the box with the little Lionel inside.
“Here,” he said. “This is for you. It’s yours.”
Mystified, Jack looked inside the bag that glowed in the sun, the contents illuminated as effectively as if he had used a spotlight. Much to Ty’s surprise, his cousin, a man close to 60 years of age, a retired Green Beret Colonel, burst into tears. It was the kind of crying that spontaneously leaps from the eye in fat drops. Jack turned away, leaned his hand on the back of a chair that stood beside the kitchen table, flung his other arm across his eyes and wept.
In that moment, Ty took a chance, a single step that meant so much. Lifting a foot in his clean work boot, he stepped over the door lintel and into the kitchen. His cousin’s earlier angry words, “What are you doing here? Get out of this house. I never want to lay eyes on you again!” had implied a threat of physical harm. Now it was wiped away and 20 years of separation ended with that one simple move.
Collecting himself, Jack pulled out the chair he’d been leaning against. He motioned to Ty to sit and pulled over one for himself. Quietly closing the door, Ty sat and waited.
Jack said, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry for the mean things I said last time I saw you. I never meant it, really. I was just in such pain and my father had been so distant to me. I could never do it right enough or well enough; it seemed he favored you. Please forgive me. I cut you out of my life and it wasn’t your fault. I was just in pain.”
Ty’s rosy cheeks became rosier. Never in his wildest dreams had he expected this kind of reaction or reception. All he wanted to do was stop that damn voice. But this wasn’t the biggest surprise. He was about to be shocked again. Over two mugs of steaming coffee, Jack made another confession:
“Ty, this is going to sound strange, but I’ve been having these dreams. Each night a voice would come to me and I couldn’t imagine what it meant, but now I know. The voice kept repeating the same thing over and over. It said, ‘The trains are coming!'”
These two grown and very practical men looked at each other sheepishly as Ty explained his dreams instructing him to return the trains. Neither of them believed in ghosts or phantoms or wee beasties that go bump in the night. They both believed in the sun coming up in the morning and going down in the evening and the good hard work that came in between. But believe it or not, the small, not so still voice had led them back to one another; back to being family and friends.
Perhaps Ty’s experience will give you an added push to reach out and take those challenging actions of your own, even if you don’t have proof that this is the “right” thing to do. Sometimes a hunch is the best information you are going to get. When you act upon your intuition, you just may find that that small, not so still voice has your best interests at heart.