Like a hand waving

The past beckons, but we can't go there except in our imaginations. The dining car of the Northern Pacific Railway North Coast Limited Image licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The past beckons, but we can’t go there except in our imagination.
Dining car, Northern Pacific Railway North Coast Limited
Image licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train that I wanted to be on.”
Jonathan Safran Foer

This has to be one of the most evocative analogies I’ve ever known.  It captures perfectly the wistful experience of watching years roll away, just far enough from us to be out of reach.

It also symbolizes the strange affinity I feel for history; looking on from the outside yet somehow connecting to those within, wishing I knew what it was like to see things from the inside.

Trains are well suited as symbols with which to illustrate the elusive nature of time; just look at Einstein’s use of trains in explaining his theory of relativity.  There’s something about a moving train that throws our perceptions of reality slightly askew.  If we stare at a train passing, we may begin to feel as if we are the ones moving.

And of course, in one sense, we are moving.  We simply have the illusion that we are standing still in comparison, as time passes in front of our eyes.

The passage of time really does seem like a long train with countless cars we can’t enter.  We can see people waving at us from a distance that grows ever greater, until they all but vanish from our sight, but we can only join them in our imagination.

Do you connect with Foer’s analogy?  Have you ever wanted to be on the inside of that passing train, even briefly?

One year ago today:

Some things

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Good morning, Julia!
    Yes! I am in the throes of wishing I were on a train. Going … somewhere?
    I’m a way, I feel I’m also the one on the train, pressing on with enormous, irresistible momentum.
    Suddenly, I want to be OFF the train!
    Well, I can always hope there’s not a train wreck looming around the next bend.
    Maybe I need more sleep! Ha!

    • Susan, I’ve learned to hope (too often in vain) that a train wreck does not lie ahead. Currently, I’m focusing on survival skills…and more sleep is one of them.

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