I am sitting in a Walmart parking lot. It is early and still dark, the horizon just tipping towards a deep tangerine glow. We left the Fundy coastline of New Brunswick yesterday and drove down through Maine, halfway to our next destination. Walmart is not a bad place to stay when you just need an overnight parking space and some time to sleep. But it does mean more attention, especially if you are living in a renovated school bus. There was a man from California who walked over last night, older with shaggy grey hair and an unshaven face. He was friendly and excited about the bus and our journey. He had a sweet but very smelly dog. Too bad I had just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s, No Country For Old Men. My radar was up, and all lone cars (and people) made me wary and nervous the entire night.
The last week together in Fundy was beautiful. It took our breath away with its rugged coast, its sky full of stars, its waterfalls and fern covered forests. It was also a study in the little things that bring out irritation in all of us. The close proximity— feet stepped on again and again, the corner of a drawer opening onto your back, the pile of dirty shoes overflowing near the door, lost toothpaste, a broken pipe.
One child asks questions all day long. They are curious questions, the kind that should be encouraged. Why are rivers so cold and where do they begin? How can people still believe the earth is flat if when you take a picture from space, you can see that it is round? Do you think I could catch a squirrel with my hands? A chipmunk? A bird? Could I be President of every country in the world? If I was President could I make a different kind of milk that didn’t come from cows? With no break from these questions, one can grow weary.
Only a few weeks in to this trip and we are finding rhythm. And irritation. The close living is surrounded by beauty and that takes a lot of the edge off. It doesn’t fix all of us and all our problems. But it has given us a new place to rest our eyes, a place away to fix our gaze on Jesus and the wonders of his world.
While we hiked along the coast, I could hear the conversations going on between the kids in front of me. Two bickered over every subject matter under the sun. I tried to ignore them.
One was noticing the view through the trees, where the cliffs stretched down to the sea and a low tide. This was my new favorite child.
Quinn asked questions. About tree root systems and how the roots actually absorb the water, through the end like a straw or through pores like our skin?
Margot sat on her perch between Josh’s shoulder blades, her white hair bobbing with the rise and fall of the trail, her voice straining to defeat the others in volume even if her meaning was unclear.
All of them, shuffling on together on that path, at varied paces, needing to slow down or speed up to keep the group intact— so much like life with people. All on a journey, a rugged path of beauty and hardship together. Some of us are strong and able to lead and carry others, and so they should. Some need to be carried. Some are turned in on themselves and their own hurts and weariness, and spend a lot of time voicing their complaint hoping others will hear them. Some can see the beauty all around and even the view beyond the immediate struggle. They hear the birds, feel the wind. Some are thinkers, and make us all tired with their endless thoughts. But we need them too.
We have left the coast, thankful for the sunshine and sea, forest and fern, and are headed back south for another remote area in Maine. There are old friends there, and an expanse of wilderness to explore with no connection to the cyberworld. I know the stars will abound. I know the quiet will be long.
The other day I read Jesus words to his disciples, tired and spent from ministering to others, he took them away from the crowds to a quiet place, and it reminded me again of the goodness of getting away when it is given. It’s not a right or something we are entitled to. But God knows when we need it— and when it is given, for whatever length of time, it is a good and holy thing.