Reflections of my Life


For those who grew up as part of the baby-boomer generation you may recognize the title as a song from the early 1970’s by a group called Marmalade. This song and many other associated memories came alive as I came across the above picture of an old railway station.
This rainy day picture was taken on October 5, 2013 at the old Cuba New York railway station. What is so special about this picture and what is the purpose in writing such an article? Simply put, it helps to bring life and its moments into a fresh perspective. Let me explain!

I am a person who enjoys reflecting on past experiences in life; not to live in the past but to glean memories and appropriate them in a meaningful way for today. Cuba New York is located about 65 miles southwest from Buffalo where I grew up. There were many trips made to this small country village through my growing years due to many of our relatives residing there. As a little boy I would scream in the night as trains would roar through the Cuba neighbourhood thinking that they would crash into the house. My mom and dad continue to remind me of my childhood trauma concerning trains as they shook the house in the middle of the night. Finally, it was determined that this had to come to an end due to my disturbing the entire household the nights when we would visit. How would this be accomplished?

It was my Aunt Mary Jean who proposed a solution. I would be taken to the Cuba Train Station to witness a train racing through the tracks as it buzzed passed the station. There was a 6:30 PM train that went through every night which did not stop at the Cuba station. A certain Saturday night was determined to be the time when I would confront my fears. This may sound trivial to the reader but I can assure you it was anything but. Believe it or not I remember my maiden experience at the station as a 6 year old. It was a rainy Saturday night and I was terrified as the train began to sound its whistle in the distance. Suddenly, the lights came into view as the locomotive glided around a curve in its approach to the station. My fears really heightened as it navigated the curve seen in the picture above. I did scream and felt fear but began to sense relief as the train stayed on the tracks as it raced by our car. It was an exhilarating experience; so much so I asked to do it again the next day. It became a ritual in subsequent years to go the station and watch trains. I look at this picture and see it as a milestone; it is a place and memory where I was able to conquer a fear head on. This serves as a benchmark for many such confrontations and breakthroughs that would take place in the future.

My fascination with trains intensified on many fronts. My dad, who worked on the railroad, bought a Lionel Train set for the family which quickly became a fixture in the O’Connell home. My younger brother still has the train set on display in his home. (Are we O’Connell’s sentimental or what?) The picture above also represents a memory of the first time I ever took a train ride. It was a simple 15 mile trip between Cuba and Olean New York. In looking at the above picture I see the foundation of what later became hundreds of thousands of train traveling miles throughout India. I have travelled through every state in India with the exception of some of the extreme Northeastern states and loved every minute of it. Indian train travel has its inconveniences but it does make allowances in taking in the beauty of God’s creation. The time spent on trains provides opportunities for reflection and thought.

One should never underestimate the power of a memory. It is one of God’s most wonderful gifts to mankind provided we learn to utilize it properly. I want to reemphasize that this is not advocating a living in the past kind of mentality. There is a difference! One who lives in the past tends to stay locked into that memory at the expense of carrying on in life. They make decisions and view everything in life from that experience. The disciples of John the Baptist serve as a good example on this point. (Mat 9:14-17)

Good memories should serve as building blocks for knowing how to live today and for the future. It should help put life into a proper perspective as we see the months and years quickly pass by. The pace and pulse of today’s culture strips life of such moments. No one has time anymore to stop and smell the roses. (Ah, another-baby boomer song sung by an artist known as Mac Davis)

Reflection and calling to memory the goodness of God’s creation is Biblical and encouraged. This was one of the keys to David’s success; he was a meditator of God’s law as well as of His creation. (Psa 8 and 19) It is the key to hundred-fold fruit as seen in the parable of the sower. The good ground is likened to soil, a heart that commits the Word to memory while seeking to reflect upon it. Note the change of heart in the psalmist as he discovers this truth:

Psa 77:6 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.

The Psalmist was going through difficulty as evidenced in the first 5 verses; upon reflection of God’s faithfulness in times past his perspective quickly changed. As you read on you find faith beginning to arise to meet the current challenge. This is what reflecting on a moment or memory can produce. It’s an opportunity to “capture” a sequence of time of known significance while appropriating value for today. Let’s go back to the above picture. To anyone else the picture is nothing more than a dreary portrait of a forgotten train station; to me it represents many wonderful memories and treasures. Today’s world does not afford much opportunity for such treasure hunting. The parable of the man who seeks after goodly pearls is lost due to an excessive “task oriented” environment.

The greatest tragedy is in the lives of children who are being robbed of meaningful childhood moments; the kind of upbringing that I was privileged to enjoy. Is it any wonder there is an alarming increase of suicides, depression and other maladies amongst our young in today’s modern life? This must stop and it must begin with us. It is time to begin to measure success by God’s values and standards as opposed to that of man. It’s recognizing the needed balance of encouraging the young to be the best they can be while remembering that they are yet children. We must not place unrealistic expectations upon the young seeing that they do not have the emotional capacity to cope with the pressures society is quick to place upon them. The Apostle Paul warned concerning this when writing on family matters to the Colossian church.

Col 3:21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

This not only applies to the young but it’s for us as well. It’s time to stop allowing the spirit of this world to strip us of the ability to reflect and remember. It will take intentional effort on our part, like the man seeking goodly pearls to help this to become a reality. (Mat 13:45-46) In writing this I cannot escape some of the words from the above mentioned song; Stop and Smell the Roses. It may be appropriate to take a look and think upon the words at this point:

Hey Mister
Where you going in such a hurry
Don’t you think it’s time you realized
There’s a whole lot more to life than work and worry
The sweetest things in life are free
And there right before your eyes

You got to Stop and Smell the roses
You’ve got to count your many blessings everyday
You’re gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t Stop and Smell the roses along the way

Before you went to work this morning in the city
Did you spent some time with your family
Did you kiss your wife and tell her that she’s pretty
Did you take your children to your breast and love them tenderly

You got to Stop and Smell the roses
You’ve got to count your many blessings everyday
You’re gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t Stop and Smell the roses along the way

Did you ever take a walk through the forest
Stop and dream a while among the trees
Well you can look up through the leaves right straight to heaven
You can almost hear the voice of God
In each and every breeze

You got to Stop and Smell the Roses
You’ve got to count your many blessings everyday
You’re gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road
If you don’t Stop and Smell the Roses along the way

It may not be one of the songs sung in our churches but its message sure should be. We have lost our ability to stop and take time to think about God and His creation; to reflect upon memories of times past that helped to shape the man or woman we have become. There are those who may not have pleasant memories to reflect upon; its ok, now is a good time to start. Each and every day has its hidden treasure and God is more than willing to reveal them provided we incline our heart to do so.

Pro 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

If this article were to conclude at this point its message would have hopefully found its mark. It is a needed one! There is a particular reflection of my life that actually serves as the catalyst for this write-up. So what was I doing taking a picture of a train station on October 5th, 2013?

The picture below was taken earlier on that same day. The couple on the left was Jim Higgins and his wife Colleen who came in from the state of Michigan. Jim was a close friend whom we have not seen for 26 years. One can imagine the shared stories and memories of times past on that reunion day of October 5th. (I really pitied the poor wives as they graciously heard our old stories and recollections.) The couple in the middle is my cousin John with his wife Sue and grandson Liam. John and I grew up as very close brothers from the time we were toddlers right through our mid-twenties. Though our lives took different turns we always stayed close and connected. The torn down train station serves as a reminder of the many fond memories we shared together through the years.


The reason we gathered that day was for the purpose of saying our goodbyes to John who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was a bittersweet day but one that was filled with rich experiences that will never be forgotten. That day itself was memorable; the laughter, tears and time spent with friends and loved ones is a reflection and moment that will endure.

What meaning does life have for you? What will it be like when it becomes your turn? Will there be regrets of missed moments and opportunities due to mad pursuit of maintaining pace with today’s world? It’s no secret that our shared time on that October day was emotional at many levels but there were no regrets in being able to “capture” a moment of what really matters in life.

John passed away in June of 2014. I was privileged to have an opportunity to see him one week before he passed on. He was extremely weak but still able to hold a conversation. We spent time rehearsing many of our childhood memories over the course of two hours. John was even able to share memories I had forgotten. It was a special time between the two of us; an experience I cannot put into words. Our time concluded with prayer which included thanksgiving to God for the gift of a very special relationship we were able to share. It was a gift; one filled with many precious memories and reflections that continues to bless me to this day. I continue to miss him.

On that dreary rainy night in October I took a moment to stop and smell the roses at that old train station. God has been very good to me as I reflected upon many wonderful memories. My friend, life has its challenges but it is meant to be enjoyed. Once you cross that threshold into eternity, it’s over. There will be no ability to go back and relive a moment. Imagine the horror of regret of missed moments and reflections that people will carry throughout eternity. Let the words of the Mac Davis song sink in; stop and smell the roses and “capture” a moment. Take time and appreciate your spouse, your children or close acquaintances. Most importantly, take time to reflect, meditate and think upon the goodness and faithfulness of God. It is one of His greatest gifts to mankind.