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Never Too Late

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posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 03:29 PM

This is a true story and my first one here. I am sharing it because I feel the need to do so. It's not big on metaphor, and simple in style. Sometimes I think this is best.

I had spent a quiet weekend at a friend’s cottage in a quiet country area of the Czech Republic, and now it was time to head back to Prague. When I boarded the train from Plzen on Sunday, February 26th 1995, I had no idea that this journey was going to change my life.

A few minutes later our train came to a stop at the next station, and because my friend and I were chatting, it was a while before we realized that we were still stationary. We glanced around and saw that the other passengers were also wondering about the delay. Seven minutes later, the conductress entered our carriage and as she walked through she announced in a rather bored and resigned voice that there had been an accident and we would probably be delayed for some time, so we could get off if we wished; another train was being brought out for us to continue our journey.

We got off with the other passengers and stood around on the bare platform, peering down towards the front of the train some distance away and thinking that the locomotive must have hit a car or something. Maybe half a minute went by before a fellow passenger pointed at our own carriage – or rather, she pointed under it, raising her other hand to her mouth as she exclaimed “Pane Boze…Pane Boze!” (Lord God…Lord God!)

Then I saw her – a woman, quite young, lying sprawled face-down on the cold, hard stones between the rails. She had been hit by the train, hit so hard that she had been literally knocked out of her winter boots. They were lying beside her, and she was lying directly beneath where I and my friend had been sitting.

It was several seconds before I understood that no-one was doing anything to help her. The conductress was nearby, methodically collecting all the things from her handbag that were strewn here and there by the rails along the edge of the platform. Because my Czech was very limited I asked my friend to ask her what was happening: why was nobody doing anything? She explained that the driver had already checked the woman’s pulse, and not finding any, he had then gone back to his carriage and called through to advise of the accident and asked them to send an ambulance and a replacement train.

I couldn’t think of anything to say.

The conductress showed me the woman’s driving license. Her name was Petra and she came from the next village down the line. She was just twenty years old.

So there I was, looking at this young woman named Petra, aged twenty, and now pronounced dead by a train driver and lying between the tracks under his train. She truly looked as if...well, if she were lying anywhere else you would never imagine what had just happened to her.

“But this is a human being,” I thought to myself. “This is somebody’s daughter. She has people who love her, and she’s just been left to lie there as if nobody cares. What if she were my daughter, and I learned that nobody did anything at all, but just left her there and stood chatting a few metres away?”

Then I became aware of the screams. Her friend had been on the platform and had seen everything. Now, as she really began to comprehend but her mind rejected that understanding, she was screaming…

We later found out that Petra had crossed the tracks and hadn’t seen our locomotive just as it was arriving around the bend. She’d been wearing earmuffs against the chill air and they’d blocked out the sounds that would have saved her. Petra had no time to run and didn’t even have a chance to scream before it hit her. But now, her friend was screaming while others held her and kept her away, down at the far end of the platform…

I heard those screams just going on and on and it was unbearable. I had to do something. At least try… By chance a nursing sister was there among the passengers and she agreed to go with me, and so the two of us crawled under the carriage to where Petra lay.

The sister checked her then shook her head, very gently, tears in her eyes. Perhaps a few minutes sooner there might have been a chance, some trace of hope, but not now. I touched Petra’s cheek, still warm even in this cold air, then, very gently, I took hold of her and began to turn her so, holding her so she would not be lying with her face to the cold ground. If this were my daughter I would want someone to hold her.

At least that.

Oh, she was beautiful, truly one of the loveliest women I have ever seen. Her face was almost perfect, with just a small trickle of blood where she had hurt her lower lip. Her eyes were wide open and I felt utter and crushing sadness as I looked into them, her beautiful, deep, brown eyes staring into the distance. There was no fear in those eyes. They showed a sense of quiet surprise and something like wonder, as if she had seen far, far beyond what was really there…and perhaps had understood what was about to be…and had accepted it.

I wished I knew her language so I could tell her something. But then, I understood that now it didn’t matter what language I used, so I whispered to her in English, “Petra, it’s okay…Don’t be afraid…You’re not alone…It’s okay...You’re not alone…”

Then it happened. As I held her still cradled in my arms, her face now up towards Heaven, Petra exhaled. I heard that single, soft, gentle sigh and saw the last breath leave her mouth, a small cloud of warmer, moist air in that dry, freezing cold, and I knew in that moment that she was truly gone. She had probably taken in that breath as she saw what was coming, and somehow, her lungs forever stilled and her heart at rest, she’d held it in for over ten minutes, then as I turned and held her, Petra let it go: the very last breath she would ever take in this life.

I cannot express to you what I felt. No words can.

Supporting her head, I gently laid her down. Now, she was truly gone: but how I wished I could have captured that last breath that she’d held for so long! I wished I could keep it somehow, not to imprison it, but to take that small part of her essence of life with me and show her sunrises and sunsets and spring-times and summers and distant shores and beauties of this world, all the wonders that now she would never see. But it had gone, that breath, like Petra had gone, vanished and unreachable.

(Continued in next post)

[edit on 2-11-2007 by JustMike]

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 03:30 PM


It was only after I said goodbye and left her there and came out from under the carriage and my friend held me and led me away in silence that I saw Petra’s blood on my hands. It just didn’t seem right that it should be there and I don’t know how it happened, but there it was. Cerhovice is just a platform, a stop for a small village; there is no ticket office there – and no water. There wasn’t any on the train either, or on the replacement train that finally arrived, so I had to ride back to Prague, holding my hands in front of me and trying not to stare at them, waiting until I got home, hours later, before I could wash that blood off.

Only then did it truly hit me, because as that redness swirled away down the drain it felt like I was killing her.

I wept.

I have seen her so many times since then. Her beautiful face comes to me so often and I wish so much that she were alive in fact and not just in memory. It’s not that she died that hurts me, but that she didn’t live

Do you understand?

For a long time, I'd wanted to go and meet her family and tell her parents what happened and what I saw, but I didn’t even know exactly where she lived and I always put it off. Time passed. Ten years of it. Then one Monday, I was with the same friend and we were driving around the area of Cerhovice, and as always, I thought of Petra. It just came to me that I had to see where she’d come from, and I knew that if I found her home, I would have to stop and visit and see her family – if they were still there.

Enough time had passed. Now was the right time.

Just two hours later, after driving here and there and asking people we saw along the way, we were standing at the door of Petra’s home. My friend knocked on the door, and when it opened I felt a shock go through me, because the woman who opened it had the same eyes, the same face. It was her younger sister, now a grown woman in her mid-twenties.

My friend explained why we were there and moments later Petra’s mother came to the door. In what was the most difficult meeting of my life, we told her what I had done and seen and said to her daughter. My friend also told her what we knew about how the accident had happened, and only then did we learn how deep was this mother’s pain. She had never known; all she was told that sad Sunday evening was that Petra had been hit by a train and was dead, and she should go to the morgue in the nearby regional town of Beroun and collect her daughter’s things. Nobody ever told her anything more, so what terrible imaginings she must have suffered – the how, the why…and what she looked like. It was eighteen months before she could even speak her daughter’s name…

Not once did this dear woman ask me why I had waited so long to find her; she understood. But somehow, I believe Petra’s mother now has some peace in her heart, because now she knows that her girl did not suffer, now she knows that it was truly just a tragic, terrible accident, and she also knows that at the very end, her daughter was not alone. We did not hug, nor did I expect it…we shook hands and she thanked me, and after a few more words, we left.

Ten years is a long time, but I am so grateful that at last I found Petra’s home and family. I am grateful that now they know. Maybe I should have tried to find them sooner, but now I know that in that first 18 months her mother would not speak to anyone about her daughter’s last day. So, later was better. And I learned this: if you can overcome your own fears it is never too late to do even the hardest things. Petra taught me that…

Thank you, Petra.

Rest in peace, beautiful one…

[edit on 2-11-2007 by JustMike]

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 03:41 PM
That was the most beautiful thing I have ever read..and there are tears rolling down my god that was good.

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 03:51 PM
reply to post by AccessDenied

Thank you...truly.

Every word is true. I wrote it just over three years ago, the evening I returned from visiting Petra's mother...then I revised it today for this post. I thought the single-post length here was 10,000 characters so I edited it down -- then found I could have left it as it was. But that's okay...the deepest feelings are there still, I hope.

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 03:56 PM
reply to post by JustMike

They say a true writer writes best what he knows.You definitely did that.I could not have felt more emotion unless I was there myself.
Truly an amazing story Mike.

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 03:59 PM
You had me spellbound. wow what an experience to have to live with. Thank you for sharing that, it was beautifully written and I think you were able capture and portray your emotions quite well regarding the event.

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 04:08 PM
reply to post by worldwatcher

Thank you so much...

I had to take a deep breath before I hit the "post" key. Up to now, aside from one foray into the world of literary agents, I have only shared my writing with friends. But here, I feel, we are among friends.

It might seem strange but the experience blessed me deeply and has given me a perspective on life that I otherwise may never have known. I am not a naturally very brave person, but Petra gives me courage.


posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 04:11 PM
Mike I'm sure all of us take a deep breath before posting.
I took a half hour before posting Waiting by the Window.Just staring at it.Wondering if I had the guts to post it.It took a lot.
Thanks for sharing your story.

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 04:37 PM
Exceptionally moving, eloquently conveyed, sympathetically -almost empathetically - described.

This was easy flowing but still difficult to read, though I'm sure it was far more difficult, emotionally to write, and exponentially more difficult to experience.

My heart, and thoughts, and prayers, go out to you, to Petra, and to her friends and her family...

Pokoj... laska k rodicum...

posted on Nov, 2 2007 @ 04:52 PM

Originally posted by Outrageo
Exceptionally moving, eloquently conveyed, sympathetically -almost empathetically - described.

This was easy flowing but still difficult to read, though I'm sure it was far more difficult, emotionally to write, and exponentially more difficult to experience.

My heart, and thoughts, and prayers, go out to you, to Petra, and to her friends and her family...

Pokoj... laska k rodicum...

Dekuji mockrat za laskavost... Dekuji...


posted on Nov, 3 2007 @ 04:40 AM
Thanks you so much for the nudge to spend the time reading this!. That is the most beautiful, moving, and touching story of emotion and courage that I have read in a very long time. It may sound strange but I believe your life has been truly blessed by having this experience. If only we all could have the courage and empathy to step up and be counted in this way.
I had a very similar experience a number of years back with a victim in a car accident. I do not know to this day what the persons name was or even if he lived or died. But while all others stood by and did nothing I offered what comfort I could. When the medics arrived I just walked away and let them do what they could. I will always wonder what the outcome was and if his family ever found out what happened.
I am not one to shed a tear but this has managed to get me there.

Thank you..


posted on Nov, 3 2007 @ 05:20 AM
Thank you for reading it and also for your beautiful and supportive words... Yes, I was blessed. Perhaps having survived a bad car crash some years earlier had something to do with it...I had a near-death, out-of-body experience then, and even had witnesses to confirm what I perceived while in that "altered state". And I know how much it mattered to have people there who helped...

That's also something I could write about... I mean, I wrote about it already as it was cathartic to do so, but it's never seen the light of day anywhere...


posted on Nov, 3 2007 @ 06:05 AM
A beautifully written story. I cannot even image what you must have gone through. It still shows how much one's live affects others. Well done.

posted on Nov, 7 2007 @ 04:29 AM
Thank you, IrishLass...

Something I've learned from posting this story here is that it can help to share even very emotionally painful experiences like this. I've never posted this story anywhere else, and only close friends have even read it. For me, this is all completely new and very different from what I imagined or feared. Yes, there was some fear, because in a way, posting about Petra and what happened meant letting go of a lot of things. It's been very cathartic and I am grateful for the support and kindness shown by you all here. I feel it helps to honour the memory of a young woman who simply made a small mistake, an error of judgment, that a few seconds earlier would have meant nothing and a few heartbeats later she would not have made anyway. It's something that we all have done, but which those of us here and now never had to pay for in such a way as she did...

I can tell you this: since that day, I have been far more careful when crossing railway lines, either on foot or in my car. I don't trust crossing signals any more. They are merely machines and machines can fail. Even if the boom gates are up and there are no flashing lights, no ringing bells, I always slow down and look, just to be sure. The same goes with traffic lights.

Yes, there were no signals where she crossed the lines. But because of those memories, all those images that will never leave me, I carry the thought of her always and it has been a blessing more than once...

One day, about two years ago, my wife and I were out shopping near our home. We had to cross the busy main road and we had the green "walk" signal. All the cars had stopped and my wife stepped off the curb to walk across the road. But just on the instinct born of that experience with Petra, I looked right and I saw a motorcycle moving quickly between the lanes of stopped cars. I called to my wife "Wait, wait," and as she paused and turned to me, puzzled, the red-light-running motorcycle went straight past her, missing her by inches...and just continued on, accelerating away into the distance...

Such is the world we live in, a world where some people literally do not care at all about others and where their own wishes are all that matter.

Petra reminds me that we all matter.


[edit on 7-11-2007 by JustMike]

posted on Nov, 14 2007 @ 01:25 PM
A very touching story Mike, I am so glad that you were able to give comfort to Petra's mother and give her closure.

I cannot imagine the anguish of having to hold someone so young while they leave so soon. She was very fortunate to have you there on that tragic day.

From my beliefs, Petra still smiles when thinking of you, thank you for sharing your story.

posted on Nov, 14 2007 @ 02:09 PM
Mike, you are human. This is what it means to have that word inside of you as a permanent fixture. And once in the wold of humans, you can never leave. You can never return to that shabby place where people care more for money than pain, for power more than tears, for idolization more than life.

As we go through this world, never knowing which step is our last, it is our duty and honor to be human. And this fine girl has given you a parting gift. And in due time, it will be something you pass on.

Peace to you and yours.

posted on Nov, 14 2007 @ 02:44 PM
To Jack: thank you... And yes, I believe she smiles.

NGC2736: thank you also. We are led through many means, and I think telling her story here is part of doing what you said...passing on the message. At least, I hope so..


posted on Dec, 12 2007 @ 06:40 AM
Wow !! While reading your story it felt like I was there with you. Nice writing Mike, you pulled me in and I didn't want to leave. My heart goes out to Petra and her family. You did good to be there with her and to comfort her in her final breath. Bless you and anyone who can do what you did that day. No one should die alone.

Happy Holidays Mike

posted on Dec, 17 2007 @ 07:42 AM
Solarskye, many thanks for your kind comments... This event gave me a better understanding of "carpe diem".

Wishing you and everyone a safe and peaceful holiday season -- and most of all, good health and good friendships...


posted on Jan, 24 2008 @ 03:29 AM
reply to post by JustMike

I saw your efforts on the TU24 thread to counter the irrational fear there with thoughtfulness and patience. Some posts there had really touched me because of how scared people were getting. I tried to help, but became frustrated when my posts were passed over by those more sensational and loaded with fear. After a few tries, I gave up. I was impressed by your positive, persistent, and eventually effective contributions there, so I clicked on your profile, which led me here.

That was one of the most touching recounts I've read in a long, long time, and I can identify with it in more ways than I would be willing to post. I can only imagine what you felt at that time, and I couldn't keep my eyes dry while reading.

By your positive persistence in helping people here, and through the character that your actions in this story demonstrate, I have learned something meaningful today, and I have lost some of the cynicism that has been growing in me over the past few days. Thank you.

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