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Strangers on a Train

March 2, 2018

One of the things I have appreciated about working at CareOregon is a focus on what we call “member moments”—encounters with the population we serve that we find motivational for our service.  My daily rides on Tri-Met have offered me several of these.  The central character in the story that follows may or may not be a CareOregon member, but it is a member moment just the same.

On this day I was seated on the MAX Orange Line headed out of downtown.  I could not keep from overhearing a conversation between two men seated in the row behind me.

What’s with the coloring books?

I like coloring books.  I’ve just started getting back into them.

I like coloring books, too.  They’re cool.

The cool part for me is that I get to share them with my daughter.  I didn’t see her for a long time because I was using heroin.  Now that I have been clean for two years, I get to see her again and we like doing coloring books together.

That’s cool.  I do heroin sometimes, it feels good but it’s not like it’s the best thing ever.

Good that it hasn’t hooked you.  For 99% of people, it’s “hello, I just found the new love of my life.”  Please don’t ever do heroin again.

You homeless?

Yeah.  I’m staying tonight at the shelter near 17th & Holgate.

I’m homeless, too.  I’m staying at a place in Milwaukie tonight.

So, I was serious.  Please don’t ever do heroin again.

I don’t do it much, mostly just when I’m drunk and think, “Why the hell not?”

That’s when people die.  Alcohol and heroin are deadly together.  I almost died several times.

Yeah, I died a couple of times, but they brought me back.

Well, please don’t keep pushing your luck.  And there’s worse things than dying. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Yeah, I got a brother three years younger than me.

Well, I’ve got younger brothers, too, and they won’t see me anymore because I was a junkie.  Why should they look up to a junkie?  Having little brothers that won’t see you is worse than dying.  Please don’t ever do heroin again.

I’ll think about it.

Listen, I’ve got to get off at this stop, but please promise me you won’t do it again.  It will be the best decision you ever make.

I exited the train along with him, as this was my stop.  I felt a strong nudge, so I tapped him on the shoulder and spoke.

I just wanted to say that I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation on the train, and I wanted to tell you that you were doing really good work back there.  I really admire you.

Thanks, man (he says, his eyes welling with tears.)  Can I ask you a question?


Do you know God?

Yes.  Depends on what you mean exactly, but I think … yes.

Would you be willing to pray for me?

Absolutely.  How would you like me to pray for you?

It’s complicated (more tears) …  I don’t know … Do you have a minute, could we sit on the bench here?

Sure.  I’m not in a hurry.  (So we sat …)

It’s like … (heavy tears) my Dad, he lives in Africa now, I haven’t seen him in years, and I just learned he’s got cancer bad …

That’s really hard news …

It is but … (he stops for a moment, hearing the train going the other direction beginning to approach the platform).  Listen, I have to catch this train, ‘cause I should’ve gotten off at the last stop … but what I really want you to pray for is my girlfriend and her daughters … my daughters … they are in a really bad place right now.  Really bad.  Her name is Melissa Johnson … Melissa Johnson.

And your name is …


Brian, I will pray for Melissa Johnson, and for your daughters, and for your dad … and for you, Brian.  I will hold you all in my heart, and in God’s light.

Thanks, man—that really means a lot.

I patted Brian on the arm, as his hands were laden with grocery sacks, and he stepped onto the train.  The doors closed, and he disappeared into the night.

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One Comment
  1. Leslie Breaux permalink

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful human connection. Every person, as you know, is made in the image of God and you responded with heart, soul and spirit.

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