Last Sunday, I returned from my week-and-a-half road trip which took me nearly 2600 miles, to 5 locations in 10 days. The idea for this trip began on a whim, wanting to see some people who have meant a lot to me in the past four years and beyond before I leave the country, but it soon escalated into a journey which would remind me of how far I’ve come and who I am.
The bare bones of the trip were all planned out; my close friend and I would leave for Atlanta, Georgia on July 2, staying over two nights with a friend who formerly attended my church in Chicago. On July 4, we would travel up to Carolina Beach State Park near Wilmington, North Carolina, where we would camp out at the state park with yet another United Methodist friend. From there we would move on to Washington, D.C. on July 6, staying with a third United Methodist friend, proving for once and for all that without the connectional system this trip never would have happened. Finally, we would head back to Chicago, stopping overnight in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio to stay with my travel companion’s family.
We had no set agenda other than the overnights; we simply packed our bags and headed off, throwing caution, inhibition, expectation, and anticipation to the wind. Each of us had made a number of mix CDs for the road trip, including all kinds of music. Much of my experience of the trip was mediated through these songs, which seemed to flow straight through me and speak to my soul. One in particular, though, struck a chord (pun intended) with me early on in the trip and quickly became my theme song of the road trip; it was a song called “Heaven When We’re Home”, by the Wailin’ Jennys, and its chorus particularly spoke to me:
It’s a long and rugged road
and we don’t now where it’s headed
But we know it’s going to get us where we’re going
And when we find what we’re looking for
we’ll drop these bags and search no more
‘Cuz it’s going to feel like heaven when we’re home
It’s going to feel like heaven when we’re home.
What would this trip mean for me? What did each stop have in store for me? I really wasn’t sure, nor was I sure I wanted to know, but I knew that when I managed to find what I was looking for, I’d just know, because, like the Wailin’ Jennys suggested “it’s going to feel like heaven when we’re home”. So we were off, on the “long and rugged road”, not knowing where it was going to take us.
We arrived in Atlanta near dusk on July 2, and spent the evening as well as much of the day July 3 talking to my friend who we were staying with; conversation included everything, from theology to christology to reincarnation to heaven and hell to life to justice to books to…chipmunks! (Okay, so the chipmunks only came into play when the quick movement of one startled me a bit, but they were still present in the conversation.) We went for brunch at a cute local diner and then shopped (mostly window shopped) at Ten Thousand Villages on July 3 and later took a long walk through a local park, spying turtles and a heron along the way. We topped the day off with frozen yogurt and delicious vegetarian pizza. I very much enjoyed my time in Atlanta; it was a refreshing and deeply reflective spiritual and intellectual time.
We left Atlanta for North Carolina the morning of July 4. After a slow start to the morning, we drove several hours and finally arrived at Carolina Beach State Park, where our friend was already waiting and setting up the tent. We drove into downtown Wilmington, NC and ate our hearty and delicious southern dinner of fried green tomato sandwiches, fried okra, and peach cobbler (all of which my travel companion had been talking about excitedly the whole trip). Later that evening we watched the July 4 fireworks over the bay in Wilmington, then wandered through downtown and along the boardwalk as we waited for our parking deck to clear out. The next day we headed out to the beach for a few hours, enjoying the cool waters of the Atlantic in the hot sun and laughing at ourselves every time a particularly powerful wave knocked us over. We returned to our campsite and then went on a walk through the state park looking for Venus Flytraps (which this park is famous for; apparently they can only grow within a certain radius of Wilmington). That night we got fresh seafood for dinner and spent the night playing Apples to Apples in the tent by the light of our flashlights. Our time in North Carolina was a time of laughter, a time of relaxation, and a reminder of the importance of friendship and love.
In the morning we said our goodbyes and left for Washington, D.C. Near Norfolk, VA the sky opened up and suddenly we experienced an immensely powerful rainstorm, so strong that we had to pull off the interstate and wait it out. After the storm had subsided, we made it the rest of the way to my friend’s house in Washington, D.C., along the way watching the beautiful Virginia sunset poking through the clouds and the dense rows of trees on either side of the interstate. The next day we explored the National Mall, seeing the vast majority of the monuments, the Museum of American History, and Capitol Hill (including going by the United Methodist building so I could see some of the GBCS staff before leaving for my Mission Intern placement). One of my favorite sites of the day was the FDR memorial, which was well-done visually (Elanor even got a shout-out!) and had some fantastic FDR quotes all over the place; one of my favorites was “In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow [hu]man.” That night, we met up with my friend with whom we were staying and another friend, and we all went to Ben’s Chili Bowl (a D.C. classic) for dinner. We spent the evening eating, talking, and laughing. For me, being in D.C. was a reminder of who I am; being a city so tied to my sense of call and being around so many wonderful United Methodists was a helpful reminder of my identity in a time when so much of my life is topsy-turvy.
Finally, we took off back towards Chicago, along the way staying overnight with my travel companion’s family. It was fun to get to meet her family; we all had a great time talking and laughing together, and they were all so welcoming and hospitable towards me. We finally arrived in Chicago and I spent the evening at dinner and talking with friends who I had not seen in about a month. While both of these stops were shorter than the others, I found both of them incredibly refreshing, simply a time to kick back and enjoy the great company.
In hindsight, I really appreciate that I chose to and was able to take this trip. I took off on the long and rugged road not knowing where I was headed, but it has truly brought me to what I was looking for all along, even though I may not have known myself what that was starting out. It brought me a greater sense of connection, community, support, and love going into my transition and my year and a half in Colombia, and I now feel more prepared going into the next stage of my life, ready to face what comes, knowing that I have a loving and supportive community here in the US ready to welcome me back with open arms once I return. I have so much to thank for that: the connectional system, my four years at DePaul, and all those who I have made and maintained connections with throughout that time and throughout my whole life.
So I guess this is all to say, lesson learned. My long and rugged road of a road trip really has brought me to a deeper sense of myself, my community, and love. I found what I was searching for embodied in each of these. Could I have asked for more?