pilgrimage: the road ahead

My life is changing. In a constant state of flux. At least it is when I’m being dramatic.

Through external circumstances, I will be unemployed come May 31. Okay, I guess “unemployed” is a tad misleading, as I will return to employed in August when classes at Baylor resume. Since I am not full-time, I will not receive a pay check for June or July. And my other job, the one that provides enough money so I am not fully aware of my poverty, is ending. I have been given a termination date of May 31. So, until mid-August I am job-less.

Off we go. On June 2, that is.

So instead of spending all summer in Waco, hot, broke, and bored, I am setting out. I am taking a road trip. Getting in my car and traveling, visiting people whom for the last two years I’ve not had the time or money to visit. Now I have time. Lots of time. Maybe not all the money I’d like, but I have a well-timed birthday to help out (June 3. Mark your calendars.).

I picked up a slim volume of Steinbeck off the 50¢ shelf at church, mostly because it was slim and Steinbeck. Travels with Charley in Search of America. Steinbeck’s road trip book. I think the road trip book is a quintessential American genre. (Okay, to be fair, people have been writing volumes of journey, pilgrimage, road trip, since time eternal (that sentence sounds like something from one of my freshmen, the kind I would scrawl “overwrought!” in the margins next to.).) Texts like Steinbeck’s and Kerouac’s On the Road seem to speak of this characteristic pioneering, escaping, questing that is riddled through the American experience. Journey ever westward, ever onward, continue discovering. (O Pioneers! indeed. Apologies to Cather.)

Okay, back to this happenstance find on the church shelf. Travels with Charley spoke to me because I like Steinbeck, though have read very little by him, and this book is exponentially shorter than East of Eden, the other Steinbeck book I need to get to. Eventually. I suppose it seems a little silly that I didn’t realize this book would be a road trip book when I shoved it in my bag. Then I started reading:

When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the church of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in further words, once a bum always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable. I set this matter down not to instruct others but to inform myself.

When the virus of restlessness begins to take possession of a wayward man [sic], and the road away from Here seems broad and straight and sweet, the victim must first find in himself a good and sufficient reason for going. This to the practical bum is not difficult. He has a built-in garden of reasons to choose from. …

Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process; a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person itself; no two are alike. All plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

Well said, Sir Steinbeck. And no more timely words could I have found on a quiet Saturday, after school-related duties are complete and I start to look in full-force towards this journey of mine. Fueled by restlessness, by a need for something – something different – and perhaps also fueled by ability – driven (mostly) by external factors, I can set out on a mostly open ended trip for the Summer. I can get in my car, drive from house to house to see people I miss and people I love and enjoy basking in their company and conversation. Life giving.

I am journeying with the stated purpose of visiting friends who are like family and family who are friends. I think I need this road trip on a deeper level as well. In talking with a wise colleague, the idea of pilgrimage came up. We were talking about the movie/documentary The Way with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. She was talking about how this idea of pilgrimage transcends specific “paths” to particular sites; pilgrimage doesn’t even have to be a literal, physical journey. Pilgrimage is a journey we take with ourselves for ourselves. So in many ways this is a six-week long pilgrimage.

I could romanticize the idea of pilgrimage and talk about revisiting my “roots” – friends from all different chapters in life who are now spread around the country (mostly the south and northeast) – which I will do, in many ways. I could talk about the real-life scrapbook such a kind of trip will offer. I think mostly what I need on a gut, spiritual, and emotional level is the kind of simultaneous escape and home-going each pause along my journey will offer.

Here I am, Internet. want to start writing again, keep writing, continue writing. Share my prayers, thoughts, grief, hope, stories, whatever. So maybe this will be my own little quaint attempt at a road trip book. Only it’s 2012, so it’s a blog.

To be continued…


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