Every once in a while, I get an itch to up and leave. After high school, after bickering with my parents over something, I yell-cried-sung with my boyfriend to Tim McGraw, “Take me away from here / make it seem like we’re a million miles away / another time, another place.” He was my sure companion, ready to take flight anywhere on any adventure. After traveling to Australia and New Zealand, the promise of places warmer and greener carried with them hope and light and life. Something better. Freedom.
We schemed all kinds of plans and places to travel and live together. Anywhere near an ocean or body of water. Anywhere green. Anywhere close to nature. Anywhere else.
I just finished listening to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road during my commute, on the road, between my house and my work, back and forth, forth and back. The Road: it’s so romantic and wild! Take twenty bucks and make it across the country, hitching rides with whoever, in pursuit of something–some life, some experience, some story, some light–or maybe some escape. Take me away from here!
I still sing that song. I can’t say that I’ve ever just up and gone the way Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty strike out time and again throughout On the Road, but there have been times when I have needed the escape the road has promised, and delivered, times when I just needed to clear my head, to find some space, to silence all the chaos.
Times like last fall, when a road trip to Michigan to spend time with writer friends provided room to breathe and reflect in the midst of marital stress and depression. Times like three years ago, when the burden of trying to keep it all together fell apart and I flew away, away, away for five days to a writer’s conference. Times like this January, when Brandon and I put the cap on his final ESPN travel season and rediscovered that we like each other still, even love each other.
The difference, for me, though, is in the coming home. As that young woman belting out Take me away from here! I could have added a subtext but when we’re done bring me back home again. I want to be the seed on the breeze and also the rooted oak. I want the wind to lift me and drop me where it pleases but I also want somewhere to return, some ground that’s familiar to the pads of my feet when I kick off flip-flops to walk in the dirt.
I heard once from a friend that the earth we grow up on is physically a part of our bodies and we carry it, that there really is no place like home, because we’re connected to it. We have consumed it. To return home after the road is reconciliation, it’s rejoining the very dust we’re made of, new specks and grains we’ve picked up intermingled so we’re an altogether more whole version of the self that left in the first place.
It was a coincidence that I read On the Road after reading Addie Zierman’s newest memoir, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. Addie’s road trip to escape the winter darkness of Minnesota with her two boys under the age of four seems like the daring adventure I like to romanticize, the kind of trip I have taken to prove I could do it, even if it felt on the edge of crazy. Addie leaves in search of the light, and the Light. But what really happens on the road when you are seeking out some deep spiritual enlightenment never seems to play out exactly the way you envisioned.
“Enlighten” and “envision” in darkness is hard. But not impossible.
Riding along with Addie in Night Driving is like riding along with a close friend, a friend you’ve been able to show your vulnerable side to and know she understands. Throughout her journey, Addie takes snapshots of their trip, but the real documentation is the work done on the interior, the stumbling, crying, drinking, wrestling, wondering, honesty of it all, the stuff that Instagram and Facebook miss.
“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. All of it endless and beginningless emptiness. Pitiful forms of ignorance. Goodbye, goodbye.” – On the Road, Jack Kerouac
In Night Driving, I find a friend who sings with me, Take me away from here… but bring me back home, changed, and let me live to record both the stabilized-within-the-photo life and the raggedy madness and riot. The hell of it.
Unlike On the Road, the real work, and grace, of Night Driving is not in the escape; it is in the coming home.
Any stumbling millennial whose concept of God was shaped by the emotional experience of Him in darkened gymnasiums with flashy lights and microphoned speakers… any praise-song singing, flag-pole praying, mission trip traveling evangelical who has found themselves holding suffering, brokenness, silence, and darkness in the palms of their hands, uncertain what their faith built on feeling it is able to do for them now…
…you will find light and hope in these pages and in this story.
I’m grateful for Addie’s bravery and for trusting the journey, even–especially–when the journey turns out to offer only a ragged thumbnail glimpse of light.
Even the darkness is not dark to you, and the night is as bright as the day.