Ever since I was really little, I’ve loved sitting backward on trains. When my parents would take us to our grandparents’ place on the South Shore or to New York City on the commuter rail, I always chose a seat that faced the direction opposite the train’s motion. There was something exhilarating about not being able to see where I was going, like I could all of a sudden just end up in Wonderland without realizing it. Kids gotta get their kicks somewhere, I guess. I liked mystery and apprehension and being able to get off the train and marvel at the sights I never saw coming.
I’m actually writing this sitting backward on a train, something I’m fairly sure I haven’t done in at least ten or twelve years. Usually when I ride the MBTA or the el or the subway, I always make sure I sit facing forward. At this point it’s force of habit. I’m used to the feeling of moving forward – on planes, in cars, on my feet, in boats – it is rare that I am not facing what’s ahead and acutely aware of it. I watch the stops or the clouds or the signs fly past me and I feel the motion driving me into the future, releasing me from all that lies behind.
There is an unfamiliarity surrounding backward travel. Sensation is different when your internal organs are leading rather than following the rest of your body. And while you have a perfect 180-degree view of where you’ve just been, you’re totally blind to where you’re going. It takes trust to ride this way. It takes faith. It takes processing all the places you’ve seen and believing that based on those experiences, you have become something more than you were. Those are the moments when you’re sure the place you’re going is where you’re supposed to be.