Just about twenty-five years ago this week, I was busy packing a truck, getting ready to move from Los Angeles, CA to Durham, NC. I was preparing to start graduate school at Duke University, and I was excited to get there, and to begin my program. All that stood between me and that new life was 2500 miles of road in the front of a rental truck. Fortunately, I wasn't going to make the trip alone; my dad was going to share the driving.
We had it mapped out -- relatively efficiently. We were, after all, limited somewhat in the amount of time we might take by the rental contract. And, since my sister lived in Houston, Texas, we wanted to spend some time with her (and getout of the cab of the truck for more than a few hours). That said, however, we wanted to push the envelope on the driving side. So, on day one we left LA at about 6 am, and drove to El Paso, TX -- 700 miles; day two was El Paso to Houston -- 700 miles (dang! Texas is BIG!). After several days in Houston, it was back on the road, to Birmingham, AL -- 600 miles. The last day was the short one, Birmingham to Durham, NC -- 500 miles. We got into Durham in time to drop the towed car, stow some things in the apartment, and head off to a fabulous Bed & Breakfast for an easy, and enjoyable, arrival evening.
The next day, of course, was all about unpacking the truck. Two grown men and a hand truck! All the boxes and furniture, of course, But also . . . . a washer and dryer to the basement (down a stair way that wasn't designed for modern appliances!). A piano (!) up the front steps -- about six of 'em if I remember correctly. "If I remember correctly" is key. Yes, it was twenty-five years ago. But mostly, those kinds of arriving-at-the-destination-related memories fade in the face of BEING THERE! I was in Durham! In a couple of days, I would begin my graduate program at Duke! I'd arrived!
Looking back, however, the real memories of that week are not related to the stairwell to the new basement, or trying to find the local grocery store. The real memory--the real value--of that week of travel was a chance to get to know my traveling companion in a way that would have probably never happened otherwise The real memories include: crossing the Continental Divide in Arizona (there's a sign that says so -- but my dad missed the moment, changing a cassette tape in the player); the huge thunderstorm in eastern New Mexico where we had to pull over to let the hail pass; the late night swim at the hotel in El Paso; the beautiful streams and scenery of west Texas, and stopping to put our feet in cool water; learning that "don't back up while towing a car" is actually good advice! And, there are parts of the early evening at the B&B in Durham that are indelibly imprinted on my memory -- such as the circumstances of meeting the Chair of Duke's Religion Department for the first time -- that I'll keep to myself!
Travel was the centerpiece of an early part of conversation of which I was a part the other day. The discussion was about the places people had been already this summer, and where they might yet be going. Stories of Europe and Asia drew "oohs" and "ahs". Some of the rest of us half-heartedly chimed in "New England" or "Kansas". And, of course, I could have talked about my solo drive in the front of a rental truck from Portland to Denver a few weeks ago. But I realized that some of the other trips were also "solo" trips, and how different those and mine were -- enjoyable as they may have been -- than a trip with a companion.
And, yes, there is a "spiritual" lesson here. But I doubt I need to belabor the point. I'll simply quote a Colorado author whose writings I've come to enjoy. John Gierach is writing about going on fishing trips with a good friend, the well-known (in fly-fishing circles), A.K. Best:
It's not that A.K. is a snob exactly, it's more that he just knows what he likes, and I appreciate that. My tastes are a little more eclectic than his but I guess that's why most of us end up with more than one friend. (I have friends who've been known to shoot carp through thin ice with shotguns, so there's lots of leeway there.) And anyway, in the long run, a trip is more about who you're traveling with than where you go or what you're after.*
Thanks, dad, for being my traveling companion! It was an unforgettable road-trip. And I'm equally grateful for all of the companions I've had on my spiritual journey as well! Solo spirituality doesn't hold a candle to community!
*"Where to Fish", Standing in a River Waving a Stick (Simon & Schuster, 1999) pp. 188-89.