What do we say about a person who is told that his train has already left the station, and that another will not take him to his destination until the day after, yet insists upon remaining on the platform hoping that, somehow, another will arrive, perhaps in the next hour or so? Is it stubbornness? Or, perhaps a denying of reality? Or a refusal to admit to one’s mistake in arriving too late?
The metaphor of the train having already left the station, of course, is a universally well-known one, and it is especially poignant when emphasizing the need to rearrange, reorganize and rethink one’s future plans.
So the conversation goes: “Well, I am thinking about doing …” And the response is: “That train has already left the station.” Meaning: You may have had the opportunity to do what you are thinking of doing, perhaps 5 years ago, or maybe even yesterday; but such an opportunity has already come and gone, and you cannot change the fact that the proverbial “train” has already left without you. The response might be: “Yes, but I can catch the next train.” To which, the counter to the response is often: “That may be, but understand that it will be a different train, and not the same one that you missed.”
How far can one go in utilizing a metaphor or an analogy? At some point, the metaphor can become lost within layers of double and triple “meanings”, and the conversation has to get back to the reality of the present and actual situation. And so the return back to basics: A 40-year old man says, “I think I will try out for the Orioles as a short-stop.” The friend may give a wry smile and say, “Yes, but you know that that train has already left the station”.
We all know what that means: While the Orioles sorely may need a good short-stop, a person who is 40 years old will not be able to keep up with the rigor of being a professional baseball player. It is simply not realistic.
Likewise, for Federal and Postal employees who suffer from a medical condition such that the medical condition prevents the Federal or Postal employee from performing one or more of the essential elements of one’s Federal or Postal job, it is often difficult to discern the “reality” of one’s situation in making a proper determination for one’s future. Is it realistic to think that one will be able to return to work? How long will the Federal Agency or the Postal Service show patience in taking so much time off? Is it possible that the Federal Agency or the Postal Service will be able to accommodate my medical condition?
Trains that leave the station on time are often ones that are forever gone; and the one that is ultimately entered to travel to the destination one has chosen, may well get you to where you want to go, but it will nevertheless be a different train, a distinctly separate destination, and even the rider will be another person.
Robert R. McGill, Esquire