My family and I have been on the road this holiday weekend, and I am gearing up for our 13 hour drive back home tomorrow. The road trip has become a way of life for us, after relocating several states away from both sides of our extended families. This time, we have been on the midwest circuit of family and friends, catching up on the ins and outs of daily life and taking in the growth spurts of our children. The time has been relaxed; road trips to places you have lived previously are not for tourism or sightseeing. They are best experienced, in my opinion, as times to arrive and be present and reconnect. I am truly grateful we have been able to do exactly that.
But tonight, I am thinking about the road trip itself.
My first road trips were our family’s summer vacations in a small, pull-along camper. I don’t know how we fit…there was barely enough room for three of us to stand up at once. My father always drove, and my mother always painstakingly navigated those pre-GPS days where the AAA travel guide was of epic importance. I was young, and we would flop a mattress onto the floor of the van and I would ride there with my dolls and animals (I am never quite sure how we survived the 1970’s with our safety violations!). But, I couldn’t sleep for the sheer joy of catching the signs marking states through which we would travel, or seeing mountains or a new landscape for the first time. Road trips still hold that fascination for me, and the expanse of road and sky and scenery keep me both focused, and simultaneously adrift in my thoughts.
On our family road trips now, my spouse and I tend to switch off driving. We have a few rules and rituals that have emerged. First, there are the ritual Panera breakfast stopping points in each direction. Then, there are the characteristic landmarks along the way at which we all take note, and check our progress. Most importantly, we have an unwritten rule that being behind the wheel earns control of the music selection in the car; passengers not appreciating the driver’s selection are free to wear earplugs or headphones and tune in to their own devices. I have a steady line up of show tunes and female singer-songwriters awaiting my shift. I drive, and I listen. This year, I also realized that road trips are yet another time when I seem particularly attuned to Divine Presence.
Road trips, especially those along familiar stretches of highway where I have lived, are like a labyrinth weaving a pilgrimage throughout my life. I have travelled these roads in multiple directions, journeying to places in anticipation and in reflection. At times, I double back along familiar sections, and on others I realize a moment of truth and newness, or I take in a sight that has gone previously unnoticed. Small points of light appear in fragments of memory, or glimpses of inspiration. Driving here, I had flashes of past experience that took on a new meaning, and I even had a glimpse of a new twist on something familiar that I allowed to play out in my mind as a way to blend my vocational paths in the near future. Although road weariness does inevitably begin to take a toll after a while, a road trip that goes well never seems quite as long to me as the hours that pass on the clock. I am grateful when that is the experience (and I try to be patient and hopeful when it isn’t.)
So, early tomorrow morning I will head back East with some coffee and music and family vacation memories. My mind will wander (especially in the passenger’s seat) and when I am driving, I will sing to my Rent soundtrack or perhaps some Dar Williams and make my daughter groan in the back seat as she turns up her iPod playlist. Maybe I will gain some new inspiration, or relive an old memory. Or two, or three. What I do know for certain is that our Sunday drive back toward home will have small points of light abounding, with each curve along prairie roads and mountain passageways marking our spiraling passage through this asphalt labyrinth that is part of our journey of life.