Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ramblings From the Road

Only two days later. What's this? Another blog entry only two days after the last one, and not two weeks later? Well, originally, I was only going to post some pictures, but it seems that some words are inside me that request expression. Put those thoughts in my journal or blog about them? Guess the fact that I'm writing this means I'm going the blog route.

Since last time. I'm in Gary, Indiana, as I write this. Last night, I stopped in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Last week, going west on I-90 through Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana, there were vestiges of winter remaining, and you know I also ran into some serious winter weather in Minnesota. On the return trip, spring was knocking on the door (though no doubt winter won't answer and will try to change the locks). By the time I got into Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana today, spring had obviously already moved in and made itself at home.

As I sit here in the Schneider OC in Gary, it is about 65 degrees outside, sunshine and clear skies. As a matter of fact, when I showered earlier, besides relieved expressions on those other people I was around, I was able to put on my jean shorts for the first time since I left California.

After I deliver in the morning to this place in Detroit, I'm going over to Woodhaven, Michigan, where Schneider has a small facility, to get some work done on my truck, including regular maintenance, and maybe repairing the grill damaged by Bambi (the deer I hit in our last episode in Montana). I'll likely be there for a day or two, so I might be staying in a hotel. Won't be sure until I get there and see what they say.

I'll be going to Rome to visit in about 3 weeks (a Saturday, Sunday and Monday), so I'm looking forward to that.

Play me a song. Just for kicks today (since I don't have anything I regularly listen to on Sunday mornings on XM), I cruised around some channels I don't normally listen to in order to check out some of the newer music in the pop scene. Some of it I didn't care for (mostly hip-hop that contained mostly rap), but I heard some really good songs also by some artists that were new to me (which wouldn't take much).

Three of the songs that were new to me, and that played pretty close together on the channel I was on, intrigued me because of some similarity of ideas in the lyrics. It made me wonder if some of the same people wrote or collaborated on those songs.

Here's what I'm talking about. The songs in question are “Our Song” by Taylor Swift; “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles; and “No Air” by Jordin Sparks (who was a winner on American Idol one year I wasn't keeping up with it).

In “Our Song”, there is a girl with her boyfriend riding in the car listening to the radio. She turns down the radio and says something to the effect that “we don't have a song of our own.” The boyfriend says that their song is the sound of the screen door slamming, them talking on the phone, meeting in the hallway at school – just the everyday things that make their relationship sacred and special to them. Very catchy tune with a good message.

The theme of having a song crops again in “Love Song”, with a different message (and of course, any message or thought I have from this song is just my own; yours might be different, or you might have none at all). The singer, a girl or woman, is talking to a guy she's met, or is perhaps in the beginning stages of some kind of relationship. She tells him that she needs room to think, breathe, get to know him, and wants him to quit pressuring her about being serious just now, or perhaps being so needy or clingy. She tells him she's not going to write him a love song just because he asks her to, or needs her to. Again, a catchy tune with a decent message (in my opinion).

The third song, “No Air”, has a similar metaphor to “Love Song” in the beginning lyrics of the song. The singer in “No Air” talks about how when the one she loves is gone, it's just like being without air to breathe. She misses him, and wants him as close as the air she breathes. In “Love Song”, it's just the opposite: the other person is smothering her, and she needs him to back off so she can breathe.

I don't know why those things stuck out to me, but they prompted thought. So I write.

I have been in a relationship with some mileage on the tread, one which travels through the flat, uninspiring (to some) plains of North Dakota more than the heights of the Montana Rockies, and at some point, after being married for a few years, and getting sick for an extended period of time, I began to bemoan the fact that much of the new shine was gone, there was nothing special about “us” any more. I was seeing the potholes in the road, hearing the engine of our marriage making sounds of wear and tear. I forgot that what made “us” who we were, in large part, were the very everyday things I grew to take for granted, even grew to be annoyed with.

And eventually I left.

And now, sometimes (less as the years go by), I miss the very everyday things that I realize are the treasure of what I cherish about those years.

Just so, as I have written about before in this blog, I have spent much of my life looking for the missing piece, the next big thing, waiting on God to come in to solve all my problems, remove all my struggles, show me what to do next. And, meanwhile, in the waiting, being unhappy or dissatisfied. Focusing so much on some destination that I forget that it's the trip that makes the destination worth getting to.

But, over the past few years, I've learned to make choices, take responsibility, and focus on the journey more than the destination. So much so, that my job and my lifestyle are about that very thing; now I do nothing but journey, and focus on it, most of the time enjoying it. The destination is always changing anyway (it always was, but I just didn't know it), so what's left but to focus on, enjoy, the journey?

And I am.

I have also been the person in the second song: needy, clingy, smothering. I wonder how Charlotte put up with me sometimes, especially in our dating days and early marriage. I cringe when I think of how smothering I could be. On the other hand, I have also been on the other end: writing love songs (or other songs) just because people asked me to, wanting to rescue everyone, save everyone, be the one who made everything alright. Wanting approval.

I was confronted with this very thing just yesterday. My sister is having problems with her computer, and she needs it to be working because she has college papers she has to turn in this week (I am so proud of her: she is, while working full time, and two kids still at home, getting her degree so she can teach; she inspires me. Cindy, if ever you read this, know that you are a shining star in my sky.). I know a little about computers sometimes, so she calls me to see if I can help. I can't, due in part to the fact that I'm not there to tinker with things myself. And I feel the burden – for her, for me. She needs to be rescued, and I am powerless.

Back in 2005, after I had gone to Rome for Thanksgiving, it became evident to some of us in my family that my grandmother was getting to the point that she shouldn't (or couldn't) live alone the way she had been. So, I decided, after much thought and prayer, to move to Rome, drive for a local company, and try to help however I could – mostly just being there. And I'm glad I did.

But, later, it became obvious that my being there wasn't really helping any longer; she needed more help than I could give. So, I began to think about coming back on the road, teaming with Terry, driving for Schneider again. That's where my heart was: being on the road.

It was so hard to actually make that decision, to admit that I was at the end of what I could do. It felt almost like failure. But, in coming back on the road, I was in some sense recognizing and embracing my own limitations, and the fact that I am not the elected or appointed Rescuer for everyone I know. And that's okay. Even good. I don't have to be everything, do everything, make everything okay for everyone else. It's not my job.

Sometimes, things just aren't my problem to fix, and people are not there so I can rescue them.

A lesson learned, being learned; part of the journey. A truck makes an interesting classroom sometimes.

Learning to love and hate in Chicago. I drove through Chicago today. It was beautiful coming in on the Edens expressway from the north looking at the skyline spread across the horizon in profile, going through downtown, driving out through the South Side on the Dan Ryan towards Indiana. Driving through in a truck, its weird in some ways to think that I lived there for several years of my life.

Most of my experience of Chicago is intertwined in the fact that I was living and working in the JPUSA community. They were good years that shaped for better the person I have become since.

I found love in Chicago, as I have told you before, when I met Charlotte, began dating her, got engaged, and later married (after we left JPUSA). I won't rehearse that whole history now.

I always think of JPUSA, my friends there, those years I had there, and Charlotte when I drive through Chicago.

But today, while driving down through the South Side on the Dan Ryan, passing through the 70's, for some reason, I remembered the day I came face to face with the starkest, most naked example of hate I had ever encountered, and have never since.

It was Christmas eve, 1991. I had only been at JPUSA and in Chicago a few weeks. It was my first Christmas in Chicago, the first away from Dallas. At the time, I was working the overnight shift at the shelter JPUSA operated for homeless women and children. After finishing my shift, I was using one of the shelter's vans to take some of the ladies and their kids to the homes of family members so they could spend Christmas around people they loved.

One of the ladies and her kids I took that day were going to visit some family (the lady's grandmother or cousin I think) who lived on the far South Side, down below 95 th Street. On the way there, I had to stop to put gas in the van, so I got off the Dan Ryan around 71 st or 75 th Street and pulled into a little convenience store.

The women from the shelter and her kids were black. I'm a white guy. That didn't matter at the shelter or at JPUSA. But it mattered when I pulled into the gas station on the South Side.

I had just started to pump gas, when I heard this shouting coming from a car at the pump across from mine. I ignored it at first; living in Chicago, in the Uptown neighborhood where JPUSA was, you learn to ignore noises that don't concern you.

But there was no one else around. I looked over at the car, and there were about 4 or 5 little boys – they were maybe 9 to 12 years old – with the windows cracked, yelling things. They were looking in my direction. As I sharpened my perception to pay attention to what they were shouting, I heard awful things.

They were shouting at me, at the woman from the shelter, at her kids. Hateful things, demeaning things, violent things. Things kids shouldn't even know about, much less be screaming.

I felt the most intense hatred I've ever felt personally in my life. I was scared. I didn't belong here, I thought. Forget the gas. I gotta get outta here.

And I felt hatred rising in me for those kids and their words. Things I thought were never part of me, the residue of growing up in a culture in the South where lingering prejudices and injustices remain, quietly below the surface. I began to think things, affirm things, that I would have sworn I didn't believe or espouse. I began to hate those kids as surely as they hated me. In my heart, I was yelling back things just as bad.

Nothing happened. I finished paying for the gas, and drove as fast I could get away from that awful place. Dropped the woman and her kids off, went back to Uptown, and enjoyed the rest of my Christmas. Forgetting that I had hated, and was hated.

As I write this, on the TV screen, on CNN, much of this afternoon's coverage has been focused on Barak Obama and Jeremiah Wright, and all the controversy swirling around the things that Wright has been saying, and how Obama is being affected by it and reacting to it.

Much of what Jeremiah Wright has said is very offensive, and I think incorrect. I don't believe that AIDS was created as a conspiracy against black people; I don't believe that what happened on 9/11 was a result of whatever various atrocities or evil the United States may have committed in the past.

However, beyond the sound bites and controversial statements, are words that haunt me, take me back to that Christmas eve on the South Side of Chicago, being confronted by hatred in some little boys and in my own heart.

Instead of focusing on the things that this one man has said that disturb or anger some of us, I wish (even hope) that as a nation we could perhaps be goaded to recognize and acknowledge the very real problems that exist as a legacy of much that truly was and is unjust and wrong. Some black people believe that things are as bad as they have ever been, that nothing has really changed since Martin Luther King, Jr., bravely tried to lead us to a different place, a promised land of dignity, equality, respect.

What if, instead of just condemning someone like Jeremiah Wright, we actually listened to what he had to say underneath some of his statements, and try to see the truth those words contain. There is truth there. It may not be your truth or my truth, and I may not like it, but it's truth to the people who have lived it.

How can I, who have never been black, who has never been denied anything because of my race or ethnic identity, know what it's like to have everything be affected by just being a certain color? Can I just write it off? Things are better, so those people should just take responsibility for their lives and quit kvetching about everything. Is that the answer? Some of us think so, evidently.

And things continue on, through the next news cycle, and we close our eyes.

And hatred finds root.

Shortly after that Christmas eve, I read the book that was just published earlier that same year, There Are No Children Here , about kids like the ones I'd seen in that car. I've never been the same. It's still relevant today.

Pictures from the road.  Some pictures from Montana.

And this is what my truck looks like after kissing the deer the other day.

So long for now.  

Until next time . . . keep the wheels rollin' . . . and miss the deer . . .


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