The day my Dad sent trains to my son.

I promise this is a true story.

I don’t really talk about otherworldly moments a heck of a lot, because spiritual presences are a) intensely personal, b) intensely open to mockery, and c) intensely likely to cause a ton of introspective, overly maudlin writing about WHAT does it ALL MEAN.

It doesn’t make for stellar blogging.

That said, I believe the spirits of our loved ones are always around us (especially riiiight after we have a moment or two where we address the sky and acknowledge that spirits are probably not always around us, if at all). I believe that they hammer things home in repetitive, exceptionally noticeable actions, because I also believe that earthbound humans are incredibly dumb. (At least when it comes to things like witnessing signs and remembering to take your coffee out of the microwave.)


The other day, I took my three year-old little guy for a quick walk to the park. The Train Park, as he (and half the city) calls it, due to its proximity to the Brown Line Francisco stop. He likes the slide just fine, and he’s quite happy on a swing, but the real draw of the Train Park is, well, watching all of the trains race by. He sits on the northernmost bench, right on the outskirts of the playground, and cheerfully waits for trains like a sporadically patient old man.

We saw two trains leave their stations, one northwest and one southeast, as soon as we sat down. That’s pretty cool, we agreed. What were the odds? I asked Jasper if he’d like to go climb for a little bit, since it’d be at least another five minutes before a train rolled up.

“No,” he told me. “I’ll wait.”

This is actual footage of this moment:

We had been talking about my Dad earlier that day, and how he was always watching over Jasper and smiling at things he does from heaven, which inspired my kid to bust out with this:

“Pop likes trains.”

“He does, buddy. Maybe Pop will send you another train.” (Good odds, right? I mean, we were sitting at a station.)

Not thirty seconds later, the bells started dinging and the gates started lowering. “Wow,” I thought. Even for rush hour, that’s a close train.”

Jasper was thrilled. Even more so when the gates remained closed for the fourth train to zip by, this one coming from the opposite direction.


“Pretty cool, pal. He’s definitely listening to you!” I stood up. “Want to go swing for a sec before we head-”

“I’ll wait,” he firmly told me.

I sat back down, preparing to tell him that trains usually space themselves every seven minutes, closer during busy times, but waaaay later when you see a cluster of trains so close together, like we just-

The gates closed again. The bells dinged.

It had been a minute and a half.

Jasper waved to each train car on the fifth train to pass us like there was someone he knew in each window. Happily, he stood up and walked back to the park. Not a minute later, he was at the top of the jungle gym…

…In time to wave to the sixth train, this one headed northwest again.

Jasper trains

Two minutes of silence followed, where we both stared across the playground at the tracks, unsure if we were now magicians.

(Side note: I’ve lived in Chicago and taken the trains for close to fifteen years. I’d never seen anything like this, not at rush hour, not when Bruce Springsteen played Wrigley, not even at New Year’s when it’s the city’s job to be the annoying roommate who’s all- haven’t you had enough to drink?)

As the seventh train blew the horn on its way past, I walked to Jasper’s stroller and asked him to hop in for the short walk home. (In another unicorn act of sorcery, he ran over and buckled himself in, keeping his eyes peeled for the magic rails.)

We walked west, along the train route, to head to our house…and were accompanied by an eighth train. By the time that one rolled out of sight, we had reached the last intersection before we’d have to take a left and go south, thereby ending our view of the train parade.

“We see one more train, Mom?”

“Sure, babe,” I told him, leaning on the stroller and starting to tell Jasper that the trains had all gone to bed for the night.

A ninth train zoomed down the track and I gave in to gravity, sitting on the sidewalk next to my son. Cars were backed up at the train crossing, honking impatiently as a tenth train went north, then an eleventh, the poor gates going halfway up and down like confused crossing guards. Jasper shrieked with gratitude.

“Pop and I love trains!”

As the twelfth train headed downtown, I had to agree. We blew a kiss to my Dad, thanked him for really delivering, and walked the rest of the way home.

It hadn’t even been ten minutes since we first sat on the park bench.

Did I mention that the next day would have been my Dad’s 66th birthday?

Thanks for the party favor, Pop.



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