Listen Freely

Listen Freely

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     I have always loved to hear a good story, and have always loved to tell them. A good story has the ability to inspire or to draw fear, to make someone laugh or maybe cry. Whatever form it is delivered with, stories have the potential to bring about change in a listener’s life. Sometimes just giving someone the ability to tell their own story is powerful and needed.  I learned the power of listening to stories on the railroad.



     One of the first things any new conductor has to learn is to be very comfortable in their own skin. During my time on the railroad, I’ve had to walk trains in some pretty dangerous and destitute places and I often had the pleasure of getting to do it at night. Anyone who knows me probably knows that I’m pretty social. I often got chances to be social, while walking trains in sketchy places.

     My first experience learning about the power of listening happened while walking a ten-thousand-foot train in down town Stockton at 2 am. I was a green horn conductor and this had been my first emergency application, which basically means that something happened to the train that made it stop unexpectedly. It was now my job to inspect the entire train and fix the problem. My engineer looked at me and said “better bring a hammer boy, and leave anything valuable in the cab”. He wasn’t telling me to bring the hammer for fixing any problems with the train. He wanted me to have it for protection. I was going to have to walk through at least 3 homeless camps so I decided to bring it along just in case.

     I exited the cab and as I heard the engineer lock the door behind, I decided instead to leave the hammer at the step as I started my walk. The thought had occurred to me, that carrying a hammer might label me a threat and solicit more trouble than without it. About twenty minutes went by before I approached the first homeless camp, it was dead silent and smelled musty, like an open sewer. There were old needles scattered on the ground and I could hear a dog in one of the tents barking. A raspy voice cried out “don’t steel s%$#!” I called back “just the railroad, no worries brother!” and then I kept walking.

     About 300 yards away I shined the light back just to make sure that no one was fallowing me. As I turned back, I noticed a sudden flash of a shadow on the rail car next to me, just then I heard the whistle of something swinging fast through the air! I moved my light towards the direction of the noise, it was a man standing not 15 feet from me and he was swinging a chain over his head like a lariat! He had a wild smile on his face and he immediately lowered the chain and said “I’m sorry! I thought you were somebody trying to jump me!” I was a little shaken but had to laugh. I said “no, just trying to fix my train”. He asked if he could help and I said "sure, why not”. That fella walked with me the whole way down to the end and then back up to the head end. It was good to have the company. He talked the entire time, telling me his life story and how he had ended up on the streets. When we got back to the head of the train he said “I don’t know if it was just me talking to myself with you here, or if I had even enjoyed talking with him at all. Either way he was grateful.” Our conversation wasn’t deep or remarkable in any way, other than it had been the first one he had been able to have in a long time, with someone who hadn’t been trying to get something from him. It was what he had said, it made me realize the beauty of letting someone tell their story.

     That event also made me realize that walking a train in a scary place, full of scary people isn’t scary at all if those scary people are viewed as potential friends instead. When you choose to treat someone kind and don’t let the stigma that often surrounds their choices be a factor, then they are capable of talking freely. They can do this because they can tell when you are listening freely. I feel like this is a cornerstone of true fellowship. That moment inspired me to talk freely and to listen freely any chance I got! To my engineer or crew members and especially to the poor souls, living life in destitution. No matter the station in life, there is a direct correlation that purposeful and personal expression has on healing brokenness. Testimony is a powerful tool that everyone has and so is listening freely!


1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

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