The Journey Is Not the Thing
Until I actually got on the train. The seats were uncomfortable and I was surrounded, for most of the trip, by screaming children whose parents gave up on trying to keep them seated. The smoking car was filled with old, paranoid types who opted for the train not for the romance but because, two years after 9/11/2001, they still didn't trust air travel. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't write. The journey was certainly not the thing.
But when I planned the trip, I scheduled stop-overs in Chicago and Denver, before reaching San Francisco where I'd meet a friend and stay for a few nights before getting back on the train and heading straight back to Boston. These stops were where the magic of the journey happened. In Chicago I shared a meal with a friend and his family and watched as that city prepared for its famous St. Patrick's Day celebration, which I missed by a matter of hours. In Denver, I was given a free room in a beautiful old bed and breakfast in a neighborhood located just a short walk from downtown (my parents, not happy with my plan to "figure it out when I get there" used their connections as inn owners to secure this). And in San Francisco, I was so happy to have arrived that I cancelled my train trip home, stayed on a bit longer, drove with my friend down the coast and, at the last possible moment before school resumed, finally flew back to Boston.
It was a memorable trip and I'm so happy I did it. But, with the exception of the stretch of train travel through the Rocky Mountains, which is an amazingly beautiful way to see that part of the country, the journey itself was unremarkable and uncomfortable. It was the people I met when I stopped, the friends and the strangers that defined the journey, that made it special.
Matt Litton writes that it is in these people that we see "the greatest reflections of our true lives." It's not the journey itself, but the people and the experiences we find along the way that are important. If I had the chance to answer my friend's question from all those years ago again, I would still say that I'm still walking, but I'd add that I'm also still learning along the way as well—learning to walk better, learning to love, learning to learn.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is the managing editor of Patrolmag.com, and writes on the various manifestations of Christianity in culture. Follow him on Twitter or at his website, www.jonathandfitzgerald.com.