Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rethinking the Choice II

The Polar Express (Van Allsburg 1985) captures this choice that faces the young: to set out or to settle? The hero in the story, a young boy on the verge of adolescence, has awoken one Christmas Eve with a troubling question: Is the magic of Christmas gone? You see, he overheard his parents saying that this Christmas marked “the end of the magic.” Isn’t that a question that we have all asked at one point or another? Where is the magic? Life overwhelms us with schedules, deadlines, and responsibilities. Our hearts crave the magic we encountered when we were young.

Suddenly a thunderous rumble shakes the foundations of the boy’s house. Hurriedly, he throws on his robe and rushes outside to see what is causing the clamor. To his utter astonishment, he sees an enormous train parked just in front of his lawn, where no tracks had ever been. The conductor steps out of one of the railcars and announces that the train is going to the North Pole. When he then asks the boy if he is ready to go, the boy hesitates. The movie version from 2004 portrays this moment of decision very well. To the boy’s left are the darkened houses of his neighborhood. It would be easy to give in to the cynicism and despair. It would require nothing of him to believe the lie, to believe that the magic really is gone. But . . . his heart cries out for something more. To his right is the brilliantly lit train headed for the adventure of the North Pole. For a moment, he steps away from the train. The conductor, sensing his indecision, pushes him to decide. He orders the train to start up and head out. Put into a situation where he has to decide, the boy at last chooses adventure and jumps aboard the train.

The journey is long and difficult, but in the end the boy encounters something greater than himself and, in the process, gains a better sense of what he has always possessed on the inside. The journey challenges him to once again believe, and to really see the meaning of Christmas. At the journey’s end, the conductor again slows the train to a stop in front of the boy’s house. Turning to the boy, he leans down and says, “One thing about trains . . . it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.”

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