07 February 2009

Each One Holding Up the Light

(Reprinted from my other blog: http://allgoodnewsalldaylong.blogspot.com).

I came across an article in the Seattle Times today that brought tears to my eyes. Not because it was sad, though of course it was sad to think about where we used to be in this country in regards to racial issues. We've advanced a lot in the past couple centuries, although I'd say we still have a long way to go, and I definitely hope it won't require another couple of centuries to get there. The reason it made me want to cry was the deeply symbolic nature of the story.

The story is about the honoring of two Seattle gentleman, who are leaving tomorrow morning on an Amtrak train bound for Oakland, California. They are heading for a celebration "to honor railroad porters of yesteryear as part of Black History Month." I direct you to the full article to read for yourselves, but there are two parts that stood out in particular to me. The first was the recollection of Troy Walker, who was first hired by the railroad 65 years ago. While he really enjoyed his job, there was also a downside, which included Blacks being barred from being promoted to supervisory and steward positions on the railroad, muttered insults from passengers, and having to stay in separate hotel rooms from the rest of the railroad staff. It wasn't until 1971, when Amtrak took over the railroad where he worked, that Mr. Walker was promoted to a supervisory position. He retired in 1982, three years after he transferred to Seattle.

The second Seattle gentleman is Thomas H. Gray. He worked only summer jobs as a chair-car attendant while he was in college, so he's a little reluctant about this honor. But his late father, Thomas J. Gray, and his grandfather, Henry Jones, were members of the Pullman union. They both worked for over 35 years for the railroad. He recalls a most touching story about his grandfather. Sometimes in the summer when Gray was working, his train would pass the one his grandfather was riding on. They knew when this would happen, so they would each hold out a light to signal their presence on the train to the other. Thomas would hold up his lighted flashlight, and his grandfather would hold up his railroad lantern. The trains were traveling so fast (70 mph) that it was not possible to see the individuals, but they could each see the light, and they both knew who was holding up the light to the other.

That's the part that really made me cry because it is so powerfully symbolic. We each do our part to make this world a better place, and sometimes it may not seem like a lot and that it passes by all too quickly. But it in the end what is seen is the light, shining out into the world. During a time in American history when Blacks were not treated very well, Henry Jones held up the light to signal to his grandson, Thomas, that he was there. Gray, a 71-year-old retired Boeing engineer, will be going to Oakland this weekend, and I think Mr. Jones will be there as well even if Thomas can't see him. He'll still be holding up the light to guide his grandson's steps.


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