My mother-in-law and friends during their 18-state excursion, at a stop in Bar Harbor, Maine.
My mother-in-law is a news junkie. And a politics junkie too. She spends a lot of time listening to the round-the-clock cable news cycle, and she loves to discuss and debate the actions, decisions and overall behavior of politicians, reporters and pundits. She’s volunteered for political campaigns and candidates since she turned 18, back in the very late 1950s. She’s smart and experienced and opinionated. And this election year, she’s equal parts disgusted, annoyed and (my words, not hers) – maybe a little bit depressed. With all the doom-and-gloom talk of what “Hillary’s America” or “Trump’s America” will be like, she lost a little bit of perspective on HER America.
Luckily, in late September, she was granted a reprieve from the constant barrage of media and political posts when she left for a two-week trip through the central, southern and eastern United States with two friends. These three super-energetic ladies covered 5,000 miles and 18 states in about 15 days. They traveled by car – so they could see landmarks, national parks, fall color, the Atlantic Ocean, the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, the US Space and Rocket Center and everything in between. They visited small towns. They ate in nice restaurants and back-road burger joints. They stopped in small towns and chatted with store clerks, inn owners, restaurant servers, artists and tourists. They hung out in a piano bar and listened to beautiful music. They had Sunday brunch in a dining room filled with members of the US Navy – sailors eating and drinking and laughing and talking (no staring at cell phones! she noticed).
And guess what? Everyone was pretty friendly. They were living their lives and working and eating and shopping and talking; and they were all ages, races and religions. My mother-in-law and her friends didn’t have time for TV or news or Facebook. What they had time for was to be present and observant and interactive. Spending all that time on the road and seeing and meeting all those people in all those places was a good reminder that our America is much more about the daily lives and conversations and experiences of our neighborhoods and friends and cities than it is about the screaming rhetoric of “leaders” we won’t ever personally meet. It is good. People are for the most part good and kind (or at least neutral and pleasant).
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” In this case, travel was a nice antidote to the seemingly endless displays of uncivil, discourteous, rude and crazy behavior back home on tv.
This super-trip these ladies took is also a great reminder to take the time and not wait to do the things we love and want to do. Two of the three on this trip are married — to husbands who don’t like to travel. And the third was recovering from a hospital stay five days before they were going to hop in the car and start the journey. BUT THEY ALL WENT ANYWAY. They wanted to see places they’d never seen, have a great girls’ trip together, enjoy beautiful fall weather, and they did it. I am so glad for them.
The same week my mother-in-law’s trip was reminding me not to put off doing something you love to do, I read a story (by the outdoor company REI) about a documentary called “Paul’s Boots.” It’s the story of how hiker Paul Evans, an Australian, spent the last few months of his life polishing his hiking boots. He was suffering from heart disease, but still dreamed of achieving one last challenge – hiking the Appalachian Trail. After his death at age 53, his grieving widow made a plea to the hiking community: would other hikers wear her husband’s boots on a short walk along the Appalachian so that at least his boots could make part of the journey he was never able to make?
The response was overwhelming. In the end, 17 groups of hikers either carried or wore Paul’s boots until those boots had traveled the entire length of the Appalachian Trail – all 2,190 miles of it. The kindness and willingness of strangers to carry those boots – to make Paul’s dream come true, in a way – was so touching. I read the story and interviews with the trail hikers in the same week my mother-in-law returned from her trip — the trip where she got to experience so much of America, so many people, so many places. The trip that she and her friends could have been too timid at their age to take, but they weren’t. As REI says about the Paul’s Boots story: we all help each other achieve dreams.
So I started searching out more stories of all the good in the world. There are thousands, and they are so much more soul-filling than cable news or the election. I capped off my week watching an ESPN story on Kayla Montgomery (her story was told by our pastor in church this morning, as I cried in the balcony) who became one of the best high school distance runners in the country – after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her coach caught her in his arms as she collapsed at each finish line. It’s good, it will inspire you. (We all help each other achieve dreams.)
There are so many good and touching stories out there: big ones, like “Paul’s Boots” and Kayla Montgomery. Small ones, like the things our friends and neighbors are doing right here locally for each other. Search them this week. Read them. I am going to fill my own head and heart and my children’s with as many as I can. It will do you lots of good to be reminded how kind and neighborly people really are.
My take for the week: remember all the good in the world. And don’t put off taking the trip, making the hike, running the race.
Appreciate and be kind to all those around you. And if you need reminding, in this shrill and harsh time, that others are mostly good, just do what Mark Twain recommended: a little traveling. To a bookstore or a coffee shop or a charity. Or farther away if you can get there. Focus on all the good in the world.