“All is vanity.” Those words, the opening lines of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes have been very much on my mind this last week with hurricanes in the news and with our walks at the mall. I’m truly struck by how much of who we are — or who we think we are — has nothing whatever to do with who we are and more to do with the accidents of genetics.
The beautiful aren’t beautiful because of anything they do. The tall aren’t tall because of any skill they possess. In many cases the poor aren’t poor or the rich aren’t rich because of their efforts or talent. In too many cases around the world we are who we are because we happened to be born under a luck star, or a not so lucky star.
Life has never been easy for refugees. History is full of tragic stories about the never-never-land that refugess fall into — but we’ve seen a lot in the media recently about their plight. The thing is, the only thing preventing you or I from having been one of these unfortunates is the accident of genetics that made us, us, or them, them.
We’ve had some fatalities — sad as that is — because of Hurricane Matthew. What we won’t hear too much about are the many more fatalities suffered in the Carribbean as a result of the same storm. That’s their problem. Or so it would seem based on the way the media coverage seems to work.
And yet, there’s nothing particular to separate us from them. Nor to separate those of us who live away from the ocean from those who’s homes have been ruined in NC, or GA, or wherever because of the recent storm. Pride can be a pretty ugly thing, and much of the time we can be completely unaware of the suffering of others because we are locked away in our homes, intent on our jobs, preoccupied with our family dramas and we just don’t look around at what surrounds us.
Different places have their own rhythm. This has been studied by universities and what they’ve “figured out” is that the more people around you the faster — in general — the pace of life in that place. Milwaukee is busier than Spring Valley, but not as hectic as Chicago. Chicago is hectic, but not nearly as frantic as New York City or Los Angeles. The pace is similar in other countries but if you live in a city of the same size in, say Britain, or France, you won’t find an identical pace, merely a similar one: faster than smaller towns, generally slower than larger cities.
By nature I prefer backroads. I love to see small towns, meet the people who live at a slower pace than in the City. But taking the back roads, particularly the state and county highways instead of Federal highways exposes you to the fabric of this country. If you’ve ever done much travel by rail you’ve noted that the rail lines always show you the backbone of this nation. More so than European railways where there are more lines devoted to passengers compared to industry. Travel by rail shows you the slums and the industry, you get to see the rusty underbelly of the U.S. And travel on the back roads of America similarly reveals the heart of the people. You see what they throw away, and what they refuse to throwaway. You see where they hang out and where they avoid. The difference between travel by Interstate and backroads is the like reading censored mail. The Interstates “refuse” to show you the real United States.
I’m looking forward to our route South this fall. We have the time to wander a little and I’m looking forward to routes I never would have taken in a truck and have never taken by car. At least a few of them. We’re planning a route with primarily single travel days followed by a single day off. We really don’t like to travel several days in a row, and this year we don’t need to.
I could have given us a month or month and a half to make the trip but you know… this year I actually want to get to Les Fresnos early. So an October 19th departure is planned to get us to our destination on November 1. 1700 miles, and 2 weeks. Not fast, not slow. But one thing for sure. As we work our way South, through the heartland of the U.S. we’ll be mindful of the fact that we are fortunate to live this lifestyle, and to live it in the U.S., and to be reasonably healthy, and have food in our belly. There are a lot of things we aren’t, but what we are is thankful for the accidents of genetics that made us who we are, at the time in history when we live. I hope you’re grateful too. We all have a lot to be thankful for.
I’ll talk with you again tomorrow.