I write this from the road, winding through pines and rolling by silos as Highway 94 cuts across Wisconsin.
This is my third road trip in less than a month — a vacation, a wedding, a conference. I would be highway weary except these hills are so green and the sky, a marble band of periwinkle and white; the day is stretching out as wide as the road. Time to “dwell in possibility,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, to untether from deadlines and landlines and float in the space between Point A and Point B.
The highway remains a hallmark of the pre-parenthood 20s: We are exceedingly mobile. Researchers call us “transient,” which sounds like we sleep under bridges. We church hop, we couch surf, we can’t be counted on to donate or subscribe or even show up, they say. We go through an average of seven jobs over the course of our 20s. One third of us move to a new residence every year. We live out of car trunks and cardboard boxes, suitcases and laundry baskets, packing and unpacking, hauling and hoping.
It’s not that we don’t long for roots, but it takes some time for all the pieces to fit together. My cousin finally found a job that allowed her to buy a house, complete with front porch, peony bush and tire swing, and she is reveling in her first summer there.
Time to take in the view
That is the formidable charge of the 20s: to discover your place and your purpose. A road trip provides welcome reprieve from that quest. This morning I’m letting my mind zig zag through the white dotted line. I’m taking in the other drivers, imagining who’s going where and why. I’m gazing at fences and farm homes and envisioning the narratives unfolding inside.
Road trips now come with Internet, so I can hop on Wikipedia to satisfy the impulse to brush up on state populations and presidential history: 44 presidencies, 43 men, four assassinations, four natural deaths while in office.
These summer trips have been filled with a hundred little discoveries. Like Ogallala, Neb., a town Dr. Seuss could have named, where the Dairy Queen serves food without a single company logo — blank white paper cups, plain silver foil wrappers.
Then there’s the bridge contractor from Kansas I met at a fly fishing lesson. He protested the rushed pace of high-profile construction, saying, “Quality takes time.”
Two days later we white water rafted with a 46-year-old Illinois woman who had traveled to Colorado to meet her biological father, a wiry 72-year-old who had known of her existence but not her gender.
Coming home we discovered a 99-year-old antique carousel in Story City, Iowa, an impulsive stop triggered by a highway billboard. In a merry-go-round tucked between the high school and the ball field, painted ponies frolic among hand-carved roosters and pigs. We arrived an hour before opening and were offered a free ride by three men testing the band organ.
Last week Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the traveler’s life in an address to airport chaplains, cautioning that “continuous mobility and constant technological development . . . tend to obscure the centrality of the human person.” He urged the priests to “make sure that every person, of whatever nationality or social background, can find in you a welcoming heart, able to listen and understand.”
That sounds like the mission of any Christian wherever you are, permanent home or six-month lease: to cultivate a welcoming heart. The 20-somethings I know do that well, and road trips help, greasing the hinges of the door to the heart.
Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights.