Michelle Martin

On the road again

Sunday, April 20, 2014

There’s something about a road trip. Packing the whole family into the car, throwing in some blankets and pillows, extra clothes, and snacks — lots of snacks — and heading out of town.

That’s what our family is doing over Easter this year, over the five days when none of the kids have school and even spring sports take a break. We’re all piling into the minivan for a little enforced togetherness.

It won’t be like it was when I was a child and my parents spread sleeping bags in the back of the station wagon. No, now there are booster seats and seatbelts involved. And the kids will likely spend a good part of the time looking at their phones or computers, wearing earbuds. I expect even Teresa will watch “Frozen” on the iPad all the way through. At least once.

But you can’t spend hours in that kind of physical proximity without communicating somehow, at least a little bit. And sooner or later you have to rest your eyes from all the screens and look out the window at the world passing you by.

That might be what I like best about car trips: traveling at ground level, you see the landscape change, from the urban neighborhoods surrounding our home, to suburbs, to, eventually, more rural areas. In our case, that usually means the flat farmland of northern and central Illinois. Going by train offers many of the same advantages, although not as many opportunities to stop and explore.

But as we get further from home, generally, the landscape changes. You get the hills and lakes of the Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin, the bluffs along the Mississippi River and the more rolling farmland of Iowa, the forests and slopes of the Ozarks if you go southwest into Missouri. When you drive, you see the changes as they happen, gradually often, or sometimes all at once.

It also offers a sense of the scale of the United States. I’m not sure I would volunteer to cross Nebraska lengthwise in a car again, trying to keep track of how many times we crossed the north branch of the Platte River just for something to do, but having done it, I have more admiration than I can put into words for the pioneers who came into that land at a walking pace, hauling all their possessions in wagons.

That, in a way, is the nature of pilgrimage: leaving your home, your comfort zone, and going to another place, getting out of yourself a little bit, making yourself vulnerable. Jesus and his disciples did not stay in one place for very long; they were always traveling to or from somewhere. For pilgrims, the rigors of the journey — and there are always rigors; travel is not as comfortable as staying put, no matter how much you enjoy it — are as important as the destination.


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