We’re told that everything happens for a reason. But really, what good could possibly lie in those everyday irritating instances such as having to rummage through your bag once again to find the train ticket, which — of course — has hidden in the last folded corner of the bag? I never knew until one sunny day in March, more than fifteen years ago.
I was visiting professor at the time at the Friends of Thoreau Institute. This was going to be my first lecture on environmental ethics with a group of German and Spanish master students. I stayed with friends in an apartment about an hour away and left early to catch the train to the university. Just before I descended the stairs of the station, I checked my bag for the ticket. Which — no surprise here — had hidden again. As I foraged through my bag, my mother’s face came into my mind, rolling her eyes at her ever-disorganized daughter. Here she was on her way to an important moment in her career, wasting time, because she had misplaced her ticket.
It took me maybe two full minutes, not more, to find it. Two minutes feel like eternity when you resist every second of them. I was as angry and impatient as ever, cursing my ticket, my bag and handbags in general. Who invented those things that only served to hide and eat your stuff, are either bulky or too small and never alert you that there are still some fruits in there that are about to grow roots?
In terms of my life of then almost thirty years, two minutes weren’t much. They were enough, though, to guarantee that I’d live another fifteen plus years so far. Two minutes of rummaging determined that at 7:34am I wasn’t at the end of the platform where I would get onto my train to Alcalá, but still on the stairs downwards. I don’t remember hearing the blast, but I remember the feeling of being pushed backwards. Then all memory gets blurry.
There is a woman crying out “mi hija, mi hija”, people running around in a frenzy and a dull feeling overall. Nothing else. My students later told me that I apparently made my way to the University of Alcalá and held a pretty surreal lecture, with eyes wide open and yelling the whole time. Other than the loss of memory, a temporary tinnitus and a headache I had not carried away any physical injuries. Unlike some two hundred other people who died in the Atocha bombing attack and hundreds more who were injured.
I have misplaced things again. I have spent time searching for lost items that ended up right in front of my face, I have been on hold on service phones only to have the call cut after ten minutes, I have stood in lines that seemed to never move ahead or waited at traffic lights that clearly favored all other lanes. I don’t literally see the benefit in those moments like I saw it in Madrid. But I know that it is there. Maybe this time it is for others. Maybe this time someone else needed that space to survive.
Everything happens for a reason. I am happy to surrender.