Faster. Better. More, more, more.

For those of you who don’t know, I work in IT. I’m a technical writer, but I’ve also worked on an IT helpdesk in the past and I’ve done some BA (business analysis) work.

I kind of fell into IT in a fit of career opportunism that, now that I think about it, characterises a lot of my professional choices. But I did go on to study IT and just over ten years ago I completed my Grad Dip in Information Technology (and did really well, too).

My point is, I not only work in IT, I’m qualified in it. So you could be forgiven for assuming I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, through-and-through IT gal. But you’d be wrong – because I’m a fraud. And I’m not saying that in some kind of impostor syndrome self-outing; I really am a fraud.

Let me explain. When I was a teenager, I defined myself in opposition to my older brother. It kind of went like this: he did science subjects, I did arts subjects. He liked heavy metal, I liked the new romantics. He was into computers and I was absolutely, definitely not into computers.

My brother and my dad, who also loved computers, spent many hours together discussing and doing stuff with them. I had no idea what, but it seemed to make them very happy. And regularly, it seemed to me at least once a year, they would be very excited because it was time to upgrade. I would sit back and observe with a quizzical expression as they enthusiastically took the computer apart and rebuilt it with newer, faster internal ‘bits’.

The 286 became a 386, and then a 486. It made no sense to me at all.

The computer, they would explain, would now start up a full three minutes quicker. They thought this was amazing, while I thought someone was having a colossal laugh at their expense.

Faster! Better! More, more, more!!” I would tease them.

286 model 0 computer

Meanwhile, when I was thirteen, I declared loudly and proudly that, “I will never use a computer!”

(Those are the exact words I used. I’d love to say that this was a one-off moment uncharacteristically lacking in foresight, but in the same year I also declared I would “never shave my legs!” …so yeah, nah.)

The reason I thought I’d never use a computer was because I was going to be a writer. And writers used typewriters; everyone knew that.

I had a kick-arse typewriter. Every press of a key produced a very satisfying ‘clack’ noise. It was solid and it was loud: clack clack clack! The more clacks, the more words you were writing – the better you felt about yourself. A computer keyboard’s muted tap tap couldn’t possibly compare.

1964 Brother typewriter

Needless to say, eventually the typewriter was put out to pasture and by the mid-90s I had my own laptop, the size of a small briefcase. There was no ‘computers are king’ epiphany or anything, it just sort of happened.

Fast forward twenty years and I find myself not only working in IT but feeling quite at home among IT people. Even though I feel like a bit of a visitor in their world, I overwhelmingly feel that IT people are ‘my peeps’, perhaps because the original IT people I hung out with – my brother and my dad – were, literally, my family.

But I still find myself scratching my head when people get excited about new technology releases. I still can’t understand why anyone would line up to get the latest iWhatever. When I finally bought a smartphone a few years ago, I chose the model that was ‘three models old’ because it would do for my needs and was cheaper. And the iPad I bought back in August 2010? Yeah, I still have it.

This is partly because I have an instinctive anti-authoritarian bent that makes me want to give the finger to big companies who try to force me to upgrade by making their two year old products obsolete. I get Moore’s Law, but I also kind of resent what it means in practice, i.e. that technology is new for a millisecond and then you blink and it’s out of date.

But I also hang on to old devices because the prospect of upgrading just doesn’t excite me. Faster, better, more more more still seems ridiculous to me. Whereas if I was a true IT convert, you’d think I’d be evangelical by now.

This is why I know I’m a fraud. I just don’t have an IT person’s responses to technology. I even seem to miss the obvious cues when things start to fall apart.

I was genuinely stunned when my Mac died quite suddenly in April last year. Then my brother asked me how old it was and…okay it was from 2007. So yes, at that point, it made a lot more sense.

(A close friend told me recently that a woman on the Apple helpline recently told her daughter, “I see you have a vintage computer.” It was from 2008.)

Clearly I’m not going to change any time soon. My IT instincts are not getting any sharper through some kind of professional osmosis. And I think the Universe has realised this and is taking matters into its own hands.

I say this because my phone has spent the better part of the last year begging me to update its operating system and I have spent the same amount of time resisting. About a month ago things finally came to a head when my phone’s camera stopped working.

My response: You mean I can’t take photos of my dog anymore? Oh no – this has to be fixed!

Did I update my iOS? No, I did not. What I did was make plans to buy a new phone. Just like a non-IT person would.

But then a few weeks ago, as if the Universe had issued some kind of “iPhone heal thyself” edict out of exasperation, my phone came to life in the middle of the night and initiated the iOS update by itself. I woke up at 2am and seeing light emitting from my phone, picked it up and in my slumber had the wherewithal to click “Continue ” (as requested by said phone). I had no idea what was going to continue but it felt like the right thing to do, notwithstanding, or maybe because, I was half asleep.

Glowing Apple logo on Apple iPhone

When I woke up the next day, my phone was working as if it was brand new. No more problems with the camera.

Does this midnight miracle make any sense to me? No it does not. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

Just so long as I can take photos of my dog again.

Gus the cairn terrier, standing by his bed

 

Return of the travel curse

Years ago I thought I was cursed with a travel curse. I’m not sure by whom, how or why I’d been cursed but every time I went overseas some drama would occur, so I was pretty sure the curse was real.

One time on a Greek island, my bed and breakfast host (who in those days would collect guests’ passports and hold them at the front desk), inadvertently gave my passport to another Australian on check-out. By the time they notified me the other Australian had left the island. To add a bit of urgency to the situation, I was due to leave Greece myself in four days’ time – so I needed that passport. (In case you’re the kind of person that needs to know how a story ends, yes, I managed to obtain an emergency passport on the morning of my flight out.)

Another time, when travelling to Vancouver, I lost my luggage. Or rather, it was delayed by a couple of days. Not too big a deal, except that I didn’t have any carry-on luggage with me because one of my friends had suggested I didn’t need any, saying, “What can go wrong? How many people do you know who have lost their luggage?” As it turns out, the moment I arrived in Vancouver after twenty hours in transit, desperately needing a shower and a change of outfit, but with no toiletries or clothes, I remembered I do, in fact, know someone who lost their luggage. Funny that.

I’ve also missed an international flight, though that was perhaps less due to a curse and more to my own problems with punctuality (but for the sake of the argument I’ll include it here). I was travelling from Madrid to Thessaloniki and arrived at the Olympic Airways check-in counter to find a drawn shutter and no sign of staff anywhere. Do you know the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman is banging on the glass as he watches Katherine Ross prepare to marry another man? That was me, banging on the glass in the airport, watching my plane roll away along the tarmac.

(And yes, I learnt my lesson and have only ever been early for all flights since then.)

Then the curse seemed to disappear. For eight years I’ve had trips without anything remotely going wrong. In fact, everything has gone to schedule so smoothly that I’d actually forgot about the curse. As I was leaving for Greece last Wednesday, however, I remembered it.

Firstly, as I finished packing my suitcase I clipped the zip tags into the suitcase’s built in lock. I immediately tried to open it again, entering what I believed to be the three digit code. It didn’t work. I tried it again. Nothing. I tried it repeatedly for about ten minutes. Nothing doing. I only have one three digit number that I use when I need a three number PIN. If it wasn’t going to work here, then I had no idea what the number could possibly be.

I actually tried to break into my suitcase but didn’t have the right tools. After twenty minutes I had to leave it and trust that I would be able to sort it out later. Otherwise I’d be in jeopardy of not being early for my flight (see point above).

We packed the car and I returned to lock the front door. The main door locked fine. The security door, on the other hand, which had been working just fine all day, decided to spontaneously combust at that precise moment. Not only would it not lock, it wouldn’t even stay closed. I couldn’t believe it!

At the airport I called my brother and told him about the door. He assured me he would look at it, so I knew, thankfully, that the issue would be resolved pretty quickly. But still I wondered: what would be the third thing? Because we all know these things come in threes.

My flight to Athens stopped at Dubai, where I had a four hour wait. I went to a cafe to get something to eat and pulled out my wallet to pay. Normally I carry my usual credit cards and ATM card when I travel but this time I organised a debit card that I’d loaded up with euro. I pulled it out to pay with it and immediately realised I couldn’t remember my PIN. It’s a long story but I also knew there was no way I was going to remember it. And I had no back up plan to access money. This was the third thing. The curse was most definitely back.

Thankfully I was given some fantastic travel advice some years ago by a lovely friend called Lil that has proved invaluable for dealing with situations like these:

“Remember: even when you’re having a shit time, you’re actually having a good time.”

When I missed my flight in Madrid, I was freaking out at first and then, remembering Lil’s advice, realised I’d rather be missing a flight in Madrid than be stressing out at work.

I’ve also learnt from experience that issues resolve themselves. When I arrived in Athens last Thursday I got airport staff to cut through the zip tags so I could open my case. I’ve also managed to obtain my debit card PIN through the miracle of the internet. Obviously there are real tragedies that can occur when travelling, but for the lightweight dramas I’m talking about, it helps to keep some perspective.

suitcase lock with tags cut

So. I’ve been in Thessaloniki a week now and there have been no more dramas. Perhaps it’s all over – the curse has gone again. On the other hand, I just visited at a cousin’s holiday house by the beach and she spent about half her time there trying to fix her toilet which seemed to break down upon our arrival. Which leads me to wonder: are curses transferable?

It’s a numbers game

The other day I went shopping for four birthday cards. A card for each of two friends who are turning 45, another for a friend turning 50, and the last a card for my mum who is 75 today.

With a few notable exceptions, the numbers are tending to be on the big side for everyone in my circle of friends and loved ones.

Of course, ‘big’ is a relative term. I remember one day when I was twenty-two and working at VicRoads, my mum came in to pay her car registration. Later that day she asked me who the ‘young good-looking man’ was that had served her. I racked my brain. As far as I knew, there were no hot guys my age working at VicRoads at the time. I asked for more details.

“The Indian man, with the moustache” she volunteered.

“Mum! He’s not young! He’s forty-four!”

“From where I’m standing, that’s young!”

She would have been fifty-three at the time.

Forty-four seemed positively ancient to me back then. But that’s the thing about these numbers. They all seem ancient until it’s your turn.

I remember being eighteen and working with a woman who was twenty-one. That seemed lightyears from where I was. When she turned twenty-two it was as if she’d declared she’d officially finished with her youth and joined the world of the adults. She was no longer one of “us” – she was one of “them”.

I also remember having a romantic fling with a nineteen year old in Florence when I was twenty-one. I considered him a “younger man”.

Eighteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two – they all seem incredibly small numbers now. As does twenty-seven. Though when I turned twenty-seven, I felt incredibly old because it suddenly dawned on me that I was only three years from thirty.

The irony is, I’ve discovered, as you do with age, that I’m actually getting better and better as I get older. I am more and more my true self, comfortable with who I am, and much less inclined to care what anyone else thinks about that. They say the majority of people get happier as they get older for that exact reason: you care less about faking it for the sake of what others will think about you.

One of my friends has confided that she is not at all happy with turning forty-five. “I have a real problem with that number,” she told me recently.

On the other hand, I’m not only comfortable with forty-five, I’ve projected ahead and I’m comfortable with all the numbers in my future.

Okay, it is true that, when I really think about it, I still can’t believe I’m actually going to be fifty in five years’ time. But I don’t feel fifty! And I don’t think I look fifty – whatever that looks like.

Which reminds me of a conversation I had with my mum when she turned sixty and I asked her what it felt like. She said, “Len, you know, sometimes I look in the mirror and I expect to see a twelve year old girl looking back at me. That’s how I feel on the inside!”

I always put that down to my mum being a very youthful person, full of energy and with a young-at-heart spirit. But as I’ve gotten older I can relate to her experience a lot more.

I’m stuck at nineteen. That’s how old I feel inside. And I know Mum and I aren’t alone in this phenomenon. A woman I worked with many years ago told me whenever people asked her how old she was she always answered “twenty-six” because that’s how old she felt. She was in her forties.

Funnily enough, just the other day my mum mentioned in passing that the time that her family lived in the heart of Thessaloniki held her happiest childhood memories. They lived there in 1952. When she was twelve.

Looking back to when I was nineteen, that year was hugely significant in my life. It was definitely the happiest year of my youth, if I had to pick one.

Mind you, I should’ve said ‘I used to be stuck at nineteen’, because as I’ve become happier and happier with my life these last few years, I feel less my nineteen year old self, and more like my very happy forty-something self. And loving it! – as Maxwell Smart used to say.

The other thing about turning fifty in five years’ time is that, the way I look at it, it’s kind of like the transition from being in primary school to being in high school. One minute, you’re top of the kids, the mature Grade 6-er. Next thing, you’re at the bottom of the ladder again. You’re the young newbie Year 7 kid, looking up at all the older kids who know so much more than you.

Fifty is like being the youngest of the oldies.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself; I’ve got lots of days between then and now. And I plan to savour every single one of them, including all my birthdays. If life is a numbers game, I’d like to play them all.

Vale Gough Whitlam

In 1972 my mother was a member of the Dandenong Greek Community’s Women’s Committee when Gough Whitlam was campaigning for the federal election under the banner “It’s time.” As part of that campaign he visited the Dandeong Greek community on the feast day of its patron saint, St Pantaleimon.

The celebration was typical of such events: lots of food, music and people everywhere. The Dandenong Greek Community president introduced Whitlam to the ladies of the Women’s Committee. What impressed my mother the most about the man was that after hearing each woman’s name he greeted her formally pronouncing her surname, no matter how long, in flawless Greek. “How do you do, Mrs Lambrellis?” and so on, down the line of women. Each one addressed personally.

It wasn’t just the sort of campaign hand-pressing and photo-opportunism that we’re used to seeing now. Whitlam made it clear in his behaviour not only that day but in the policy of multiculturalism that he championed, which was groundbreaking at the time, that he understood and valued the migrant communities of Australia. He understood and valued their history and what had driven them to leave their homes and come to Australia. He understood and valued what they offered Australia both in enriching the culture and in building the nation. In championing multiculturalism, he championed them. And they loved him for it.

Three decades later when my brother was working as a contractor in IT, he would impress and awe his much younger colleagues by telling them that he’d gone to university for free. No, he hadn’t received a scholarship; university was free for all back then, a legacy of another Gough Whitlam policy to abolish tertiary education fees.

I enjoyed a year and a half of free university education myself, before the policy changed and fees were re-introduced. The policy had been in place for 17 years. An entire generation had been afforded the opportunity for a higher education irrespective of their financial position. With his “free university education for all” policy he had democratised education and truly paved the way for Australia to become the clever country.

These are just two examples of personal touch-points for my family in relation to the incredible, iconic and visionary Gough Whitlam, who passed away today. Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975, Whitlam’s vision for Australia was transformative and nothing short of revolutionary.

You can read elsewhere the long, long list of achievements of his government, and you can read about his life in his obituary, including the political mistakes he made and the flaws of the man.

More telling is the outpouring of respect evident in the speeches made by both sides of politics in Parliament today, and the outpouring of love evident in the comments left by readers in online forums, a lot of which begin with an expression of thanks for the ways in which the writers’ lives were enriched by Whitlam’s policies.

He was visionary and brave and a man of intellect and great ideas. What I admire most about him is that he was an egalitarian who appealed to people’s better nature. He reached out to the “men and women of Australia” and asked them to build with him a modern Australia that was fairer for all.

One of the The Age’s online forums includes my own comment on Gough Whitlam’s passing:

“I was only a small child when Gough Whitlam enacted his vision for a modern Australia, however I have been a beneficiary ever since. There was never anyone like him, nor, in these risk-averse, over-spun political times, are we likely to ever see anyone truly like him again. A visionary who believed in a better Australia and had faith in Australians. What a lucky country we are to have had him; can’t even imagine where we’d be without him. Thank you Gough Whitlam, and may you rest in peace.”

Portrait of Gough Whitlam

On Loss part 3: Wish you were here

My father died in November 2011, four days before my forty second birthday. There was no warning; he died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Still, I was lucky enough to see him at the hospital in his last hours of life, though by that stage he had lost consciousness.

Until I lost my father, I felt pretty comfortable with the idea of loss. I had never shied away from the topic of death and felt, after years of observation and contemplation (admittedly at arm’s length), that I understood it.

I had rationalised it. I had intellectualised it. I knew about the stages of grief. I had counselled friends who had lost their parents in their teens, in their twenties, in their thirties. Perhaps, because of the phone call I’d overheard as a nine year old all those years before, or perhaps purely coincidentally, I felt as if I’d been preparing myself all my life to lose someone I deeply cared for.

As it turns out, I knew nothing. I was not prepared at all.

Just one example: Yes, there are stages of grief. But they occur randomly, in no specific order, sometimes all at once. Sometimes not at all.

Grief, as someone close to me at the time put it, is like waves that come to your shore. Just when you think you’ve got your balance in the tug and pull of the water, a large wave comes and knocks you off your feet. You can have weeks of nothing and then, out of nowhere, a tsunami.

I knew, given the sudden nature of dad’s death, that I was probably in shock to begin with. We all were to a greater or lesser extent. I thought the shock would wear off and that would be that. But it doesn’t work that way.

I realised upon arriving at work one day, about ten weeks after Dad died, that I had no idea how I’d come to be there, nor how I’d got home every day, nor what I did in the hours in between. I couldn’t account for anything. And yet I worked. I cooked. I talked to people. I walked the dog. I functioned. My inner self was in a fog, even while my outer self carried on with normal life.

On Dad’s death I’d declared to my brother that there would be no regrets; there was no point dwelling in the past. It was what it was.

This turned out to be completely naïve, especially given the relationship I’d had with my dad. Over time I found myself consumed with regret. Regret and guilt. Years after I’d tried to comfort a distressed man on a train, struggling to come to terms with the death of his own father, I found myself tormented by my own demons, my family struggling to find the right words to comfort me.

I still regret that I didn’t make the most of my last hours with Dad as he lay in the emergency ward dying. I spent those hours holding his hand, but I regret not hugging him more, not kissing his forehead or his cheek. It was my last opportunity for physical contact with him and I missed it.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I didn’t realise that evening how keenly I’d miss his actual presence in my life.

Ironically, when Dad died I had consoled myself with the thought that it was only his physical self that I had lost. His spirit and his energy were both out there somewhere, I was sure of it. And he would always be in my heart and in my mind, right?

It was a completely naïve devaluing of the physical world, as if it meant nothing. But it’s the physical world we live in.

In the midst of the fog I was king hit by an intense physical longing and I struggled to come to terms with it for months and months. While it is no longer as overwhelming or as painful as it was, several years on I still crave the smell of his aftershave and the touch of his soft skin on my lips as I kiss his smooth, freshly shaved cheek hello. Quite simply, I miss him.

In my experience of loss I learnt of the pain of physical longing, the torment of demons, the disconnecting fog. Things that I couldn’t resolve with rational thought or intellectual argument.

My salvation came in the form of a revelation about the nature of life. It was the most important lesson that losing my father taught me.

Very soon after Dad died I realised that, in the end, all that is left is love. Everything else is unimportant.

All of the things we fought about, all of the strongly held principles I had furiously defended – all of them, trivial. All of the hurt, the anger, the arguments, the bitterness. Trivial.

And while this deeply profound and beautiful insight can’t help me go back and fix the wrongs of the past, it has helped me to heal the pain and conquer my demons. It has also completely changed how I view life and my relationship with all the people I love.

I only wish my dad were here, so I could tell him.
my father standing at a bbq with a smile on his face

On Loss part 2: The phone call

In 1979, when I was I was nine years old and living in Greece, life was pretty innocent. For me it was characterised by a love of family, the character Snoopy, the comic book Asterix and the TV show Charlie’s Angels, which I played out in the streets of my neighbourhood with my friends, recreating dramatic, thrilling and action-filled stories.

Way before they started popping up on Australian city corners, Greece’s main streets were dotted with large períptera, or kiosks/newsstands, every couple of blocks. They sold everything: newspapers, magazines, books, cigarettes, tobacco, lollies, drinks, ice-creams, postcards, toys, souvenirs and lots more. For me the drawcard was the selection of comics, especially my favourite: Asterix. I would look out for a new edition every month and take the opportunity to buy some chocolate or gum at the same time with my saved up pocket money. I couldn’t wait to read about Asterix’s latest adventures and laugh at his one-liners which I thought were hilarious.

Periptero in Thessaloniki with people standing nearby

Importantly, the local períptero also had a telephone that the peripterá (proprietor) would allow people to use as a public telephone for about 10 drachma. Getting a telephone installed in your home back then in Greece could take several years. If you didn’t have infinite patience you needed either a bit of extra money to help loosen the red tape or a personal contact in the OTE (Greece’s national telecommunications provider). Or both.

It was in 1979, standing near a períptero, that I first contemplated the idea that my parents would one day die. As I stood flicking through the comics, a man who looked about my parents’ age at the time, which I realise now would’ve been about 40 years old, asked if he could use the telephone. His call was short. His voice was solemn but not emotional. “Μítso”, he said, “Péthane i mána mou”.

Μἰτσο, πἐθανε η μἀνα μου.

Mitso, my mum has died.

That was more or less all he said, though if the conversation did last another minute or so I don’t remember. All I could hear were those words: my mum has died.

I remember distinctly feeling like my world had suddenly stopped as the words sunk in. All around me life was still spinning but my own inner world was perfectly still. I looked to the man’s face for some clue as to what he was feeling but there was no emotion there. His face was closed. Unreadable.

Immediately I understood the implications of this man’s phone call on my own life. This man had a mother. She had died. I have a mother. One day… One day a long way away in the future, I will have to make a phone call similar to this.

I looked for the man again, hoping to understand his experience better and through him gain some kind of insight into what my future held. I realise now that I had hoped to study him and learn how to deal with the situation, so I could be prepared for when it happened to me. But he had gone. And I knew then that I would have to figure it out – one day a long way away in the future – all on my own.

On Loss part 1: Encounter on a train

It was early July, 2006. A weekday like any other. I was on the train going home. Standing, but I’d got one of the ‘good’ standing spots, in front of a single seat, not wedged between the armpits holding on for dear life near the door.

I didn’t notice the man I was standing in front of at first but as the train took off I realised he was talking to me.

He was wearing overalls and a beanie, was covered in splotches of paint and his speech was punctuated with sips from a can of vodka and coke in his hands. He took the beanie off at one point and I saw he was bald – bald with a long beard. He looked rough, and that, together with the fact that he was slurring his words meant all the commuting office worker types around him on the train were steadfastly averting his gaze and trying to pretend he wasn’t there.

I would have been the same once, but a friend had recently taught me that people that make an effort to talk to you should be treated with dignity and not ignored. Besides, he’d offered me his seat when I got on, and I’d met his eyes as I said, “Nah, mate, she’s right. Thank you.”

He told me his name was George and he asked if I’d been watching the World Cup, in Germany. As it was, I had, and he talked enthusiastically about the Socceroos for about a minute or two before suddenly announcing, “I’m Greek. What nationality are you?” When I said I was Greek too he asked me where my parents were from and told me where his were from.

He rhapsodised about life in Greece, how wonderful it was, how everyone there had their priorities straight.

“That’s the life! Work to LIVE! Not live to work!”

I used his name once and he said he was really touched that I’d used his name and that I was talking to him.

“You’re really nice! Not like those other people! They’re all ignoring me – like I’m some leper!”

The carriage grew silent as his tone raised in anger.

I waited a minute before responding. “Don’t be too upset with people on the train, George. They’ve all had a hard day at work or whatever, just like you. They just want to have a bit of quiet time now so they can recover, you know? Before they go home.”

I could feel people’s eyes on me. I could feel them nodding, ‘Yes’.

He was silent for another minute, maybe thinking about what I’d said. And then out of the blue he told me that his father had died in October the previous year. In fact, what he said was, “I buried my father in October.”

He said, “It really upset me” and explained that was why he had turned to drink. He said he’d always looked up to his father but feared he had never made him proud.

“Now I’m a drunk – he would be so ashamed of me! I’m ashamed of myself!”

You could have heard a pin drop in the carriage. Everyone was listening, their eyes on their books and newspapers but no one reading a word.

George’s eyes had filled with tears.

“I’m sure your dad knew that you loved him and I’m sure he understands how upset you are now that he’s gone. I don’t think he’d be ashamed of you.”

I didn’t know what else to say.

George stood up. I thought he was offering me his seat again but he explained he was getting off at the next stop.

As the train pulled into Camberwell George moved towards the doors and I took his seat. He turned to look at me.

“Thanks…okay? Take care of yourself, alright?”

I nodded. George’s eyes had dried up and his face had hardened again, preparing to feel the cold outside, both physically and emotionally.

I sat and watched him go, tears now welled up in my own eyes as if they’d been transferred from his. Unable to say or do anything else, I offered a weak smile of support as he got off the train. The tears began to flow.