(Next Monday we will be back to our Monday weekly discussion of matters liturgical and sacramental.)
It is good to be home again after several weeks on the road. I had hoped to post over the weekend, but this proved to be impossible. We left the northern suburbs of New York City around 6:30 AM Saturday with our goal for the day being Fayetteville, North Carolina. This is normally a ten-hour drive, but we wasted two hours stalled in traffic on I-95 between Washington and Richmond. So a ten-hour trip stretched out to twelve, and by the time I reached our destination I could barely eat, let alone bring forth lofty thoughts. The next morning (Sunday, yesterday) we left at 7 AM for the remaining eight hour trip through North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and half of Florida. This trip was uneventful, just hot and dull, but we were home by 3 PM. Having been away for nearly four weeks, it is always a bit of a relief to drive up your street upon return and discover your house is not cordoned off with yellow “criminal investigation” tape.
Again, arriving at our final destination left us in less than optimum mental alertness, and my wife and I each relaxed in our own ways. My wife downloaded her Ireland pictures and started editing them for a master album. I, on the other hand, find relaxation in cleaning out my email box, which had about 900 entries even after I had cleaned it once from the host site early in the trip. I guess there is something relaxing about watching the mail counter progress through 899…898…897…896, etc. Unfortunately many of the emails call for action: like reviewing international cell phone bills and then filing such financial records in electronic storage. So it is not always a matter of just clicking the delete button for each piece of mail, satisfying as this might be.
As I was eating my free continental breakfast yesterday in readiness for the Sunday final drive, I had an impulse to pray in thanksgiving for the fact that this trip was plagued with no injuries, illnesses, unforeseen accidents or painful incidents. On the eve of the 1969 Apollo XI launch to put the first men on the moon, and today is the 46th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, astronaut Mike Collins of the crew was asked for his forecast of the flight. His answer was remarkably candid: “I think I have a 50-50 chance of coming home alive, and we have a 10% chance of a successful moon landing.”
Obviously twenty-first century travelers with much more modest destinations do not usually look at their ventures with the same hard and grim statistical analysis as Mike Collins. But it is true that good fortune is a blessing, and most spiritual persons and those in twelve-step recovery programs end each day with a prayer of thanks for the things that did not go wrong. In the case of traveling, I am always pleased when the plane does not crash. If we have wheels up and wheels down in good order, I can bear the “steerage conditions” of Row 42, the engine under my window, and the nine children directly behind me who must have missed their ADHD medication that morning.
Statistically, the auto is much more dangerous than air travel, and I logged 2300 miles behind the wheel in commuting to Westchester County, NY, and back to Orlando. The worst problem to overtake me, I guess, was that ridiculous stretch of I-95 between Washington and Richmond on Saturday that necessitated a self-generated detour to Richmond by way of U.S. 1, which gave us a chance to see some beautiful rural Virginia countryside. I also now understand why it took the Union four years and seven generals to get from Washington to the capital of the Confederacy. My driving experience was nothing compared to my wife’s, who drove our entire two week stay in Ireland, handling the “wrong side of the road” conditions masterfully in big city Dublin and extremely rural Valencia, dealing with, among other things, cow stampedes, open sheep grazing, less than one-lane roads with stone fences on both sides, and the ever present rain. Never once did she find herself in harm’s way.
I could go on and on about the bad things that didn’t happen. None of us in our traveling party of four became ill, unless you count wind burn and sunburn as catastrophes. (For a place as chilly and rainy as Ireland, it is surprising to me that I got sunburned twice!) Everyone got along famously. We had no issues of crime or theft, no mechanical breakdowns, no lost luggage, no unpleasant experiences with the citizenry or vendors. Even when the power went off on Valencia Island several times, the town’s main pub stayed open. The wireless always worked.
I am grateful for the opportunity to experience the island of my wife’s roots, to meet the very elderly relatives who were eager to see if she married well. I enjoyed the opportunity to sip tea and eat cakes by the warmth of a true peat fire. It is equally true that I am grateful nothing bad happened. Good fortune is neither the norm nor the reality of life. We are not born the children of entitlement. A pleasant day, a successful venture, an awe-inspiring trip are not ours for the picking. They are blessings, not preconditions. And we do ourselves a great injustice if we do not stop and give thanks each day that life has treated us well. Viewing a number of serious accidents this weekend on I-95, it is clear to me that the absence of “trouble” is guaranteed to no one.