by Carlton E. Smith
Wednesday, May 25, 4:54 a.m. CT
Kansas City, Kansas
In about an hour, I will be on the road to Cheyenne, Wyoming, crossing from our UUA’s MidAmerica Region into the Pacific Western Region. Yesterday, I started off at 6:45 a.m. at my brother’s home in north Mississippi, at last on my way to live in the part of the country with the people with whom I partner in serving our life-affirming faith.
When I accepted the position of Lead for PWR, it was with the agreement that within a couple of months of the pandemic travel restrictions on UUA staff being lifted, I would relocate to the region. At the beginning of my sabbatical in March, we were still adjusting to what it might mean to do our jobs in-person as well as online. And now, in a few weeks, our region will once again host the Association’s General Assembly in Portland, where I will be based for the next six months.
As far back as the fall of 2020, I had been imagining a version of the journey I’m making now. I had hoped to make a road trip of a couple of weeks, during which I’d spend time with people in each of the historic districts of the region before looping back down to Mississippi. However, with the fire hazards, the road hazards, and the pandemic hazards that would have come with that trek, the staff and I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t time.
I enjoyed yesterday’s drive under overcast skies. Traffic only backed up briefly; there was an accident on the side of the road on the approach to Kansas City. My phone notifications started going off right about then with news of the mass shooting at the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed. While the passage through all the beautiful green countryside feeds my soul, the awareness of another murderous attack weighs heavily, especially since those slain in Buffalo, New York, are still being buried.
Thursday, May 26, 5:59 a.m. MT
The road trip yesterday started off overcast and windy, but not wet like the evening before. My thermos-like mug filled with coffee, I hit the road a little before 7:00 a.m., passing back into Missouri for a bit somehow, then a little bit into Iowa before crossing into the southeast corner of Nebraska. I spent the bulk of the daylight hours motoring along…there were construction zones along the way but no interruptions, a friend from the Central Time Zone and I had been trying to connect since last week, and we were on the phone for over three hours. That helped pass the time quite a bit. Somewhere along the way, I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling of not being alone, of being surrounded by love. Tuesday, I had meditated on God being change, as the novelist Octavia Butler wrote. And today, I felt God as love, within me and all around me, that also is me. I listened to YouTube videos of my favorite k-pop group Twice singing “Feel Special” and felt even more moved.
At some point, the day got very sunny and bright, and the sky very big, as one might expect in the Midwest. In spite of the horrible news yesterday and all the ongoing sources of grief, hope stirred within my heart. I got to the hotel before 4:00 p.m. (thank you, Mountain Time Zone!), responded to some emails, and then set off to Anong’s Thai Cuisine a half-mile away for early dinner. Summer rolls with peanut sauce and broccoli in brown sauce with fried tofu. So delicious. Next, a jaunt over the railroad tracks to the UU Church of Cheyenne (Pictured above). There was a friendly 12-step meeting going on that I was invited to join, but respectfully didn’t accept. It was just good to be in the space document being there, for sharing on Facebook, as I like doing when I’m in a town where there’s a UU congregation!
The road is calling me now…Time to wash up and head out.
Friday, May 27, 6:13 a.m. MT
Twin Falls, Idaho
Today, I will enter my new residential address into my car’s navigation system. I haven’t needed to do that until now.
At some points yesterday, I felt like I was riding waves as I drove up and down, through and between the mountains. Within an hour of leaving Cheyenne, the mountains came into view. I saw the snow-caps on some of them, and I’m not used to seeing snow anywhere in May. I pass through Laramie and think of Matthew Shepherd, and what it could mean to a town for its name to be closely associated with a hate crime. I’m not listening to the radio as I drive along. I’m tuning into YouTube music recordings, lectures and vlogs.
Coming up from a rest stop exit, I realize that the 18-wheeler behind me in the lane I’m merging into isn’t making much space for me at all. I accelerate to put some distance between us. I became aware again of all the hazards of being on the road, especially solo and in a barren, unfamiliar part of the country. Many unexpected things could happen, and quickly. Each of the hundreds of cars along the way is a potential threat to my existence, not to mention my own capacity to misjudge risks. The strong wind gusts yesterday on my approach to Twin Falls had me wondering if driving cross country was such a bright idea – It felt as if my car could have been blown off the highway!
Nonetheless, I am on this journey, which is drawing to a close this afternoon. I will continue to trust in the universe to guide me and others along the road. Going forth in spite of the many hazards along the way has served me well so far. As we go deeper into 2022, I hope we will all be encouraged to keep on moving forward.
Note: My sabbatical ends officially July 5, though I will be at work the week of General Assembly in Portland, June 20-26. I hope to see many of you there, whether in-person or online!