Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar. Only then can routine experience—buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello—become new all over again.
– Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome
We left our home and our part of the country on a Saturday morning.
In the back of the car, packed with an engineer’s meticulous eye, were all the necessities for a two-week trip to Michigan and back. Somehow my husband and I didn’t miss a single item on our list. We remembered the suitcases, the book totes, the icebox . . . and one particularly significant brown basket, which was carefully loaded with a tea set, tea tins, and a water kettle.
Some months prior, I had watched a quietly stunning film called Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known. Long after my last conversation about Pitlochry and Methlick, I found myself sketching out lists of how “living at 3 miles an hour” might benefit my daily endeavors to follow Christ. The month of June became a tentative venture in stilling my family’s pace, and it was a welcome one indeed.
A road trip would be a greater challenge.
I knew how dulling and interminable the time in the car might be, how easily we could drive ourselves batty sitting in an enclosed space for hours on end. Y. and I tossed ideas to each other as we hauled suitcases out of closets: we would stop and stretch our legs at rest areas, pack everyone’s swimsuits, plan our lodging arrangements ahead of time. We downloaded audiobooks and filled the icebox with water bottles and snacks.
The tea set, however, was the most daring signal of my Godspeed intentions. Packing it had nothing to do with setting a table of frills and furbelows, and everything to do with carving out a space in each day where we could rest weary minds and bodies.
At this point I’m going to report, with a laugh, that we used the tea set once during the entire trip.
But — even as I think with grateful affection on how many times Y. repacked the car around that emblematic basket — I’m happy to tell you that our small measures worked, and worked well.
A day or two into our trip, I began to notice the sanctuary I’d envisioned, but not at the tea table. The attention I had intended to pay to each person, the quiet we would have enjoyed together over hot cups, the welcome space to reflect on events without and thoughts within: these were gleaming through in other hours.
We rode together in a covered wagon the first weekend, listening to the history of the Ingalls’ homestead in De Smet and the patient clip clop of horses’ hooves as they pulled us between grain and grass.
Days later we stood in the rippling sway of Lake Michigan — after four years of putting off long-distance travel, we seem to have stuffed it all into the span of two weeks! — watching wave after wave roll in over little feet, mesmerized by their white-capped regularity.
And at sunset, punctuated by gales of laughter at the chocolate ice cream melting onto Little Jo’s blissful face and hands, I stood on the sidewalk and watched the water glimmer in the harbor at sunset . . . completely arrested by its beauty.
Away from home and our usual responsibilities, the smallest happenings ripened into memories as we lived them. A sunset stroll beside the Mississippi River turned into an exhilarated game of hide-and-seek. The four of us darted between a few massive trees in the park, and Lucy had an uncanny gift for catching me whenever I peeked out from my hiding places! Little Jo and I shivered with giddy nervousness as we huddled behind a trunk together, wondering if we should shuffle left or right to avoid Daddy as he approached. We laughed so much we could hardly run. Afterward, Little Jo’s face solemnly turned up toward mine as I buckled her into her car seat. “That was so fun, Mommy.”
There is a quick — keen — piquant — tang that comes when I live a moment that I know I will always remember. Somehow I came away with a reel of them, recorded in the most quotidian settings. Little Jo and I spent a few minutes watching a pillbug make its slow and ponderous way across parking lot pavement, and she couldn’t stop giggling at the little sound effect I made each time it toppled into a groove. Some kinds of happiness sink right into the heart and cause a near-instant overflow of gratitude, as if they were made to show us how small our capacity is compared to the wealth of His gifts.
How much there is to see.
I had thought Godspeed was about slowing down in order to see people more fully, to spend time with them and give opportunity to know and be known. And indeed it is.
But it’s also about slowing down — matching His pace — enough to see that He is moving in every life around me, and bringing things about in His own time. Ultimately, the act of thinking up intentional practices for this trip made room for me to accept the minutes and invitations that came in to take their place. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9, ESV) — and ah, what mercy.
In that mercy, our road between here and Michigan was strewn with conversations I didn’t anticipate. Our bed-and-breakfast host’s wife had a medical emergency just before we arrived, and we glimpsed the beauty of a tiny community pulling together. At the rehearsal dinner for my brother’s wedding, the best man surprised and delighted Y. and me by pulling up a chair and striking up a discussion. Somewhere in Michigan, I dared to negotiate the price of three old books with a jovial antiques shop owner — and succeeded! — and enjoyed the experience enormously. And now I’m in danger of surrendering this entire post to lists, in a poor effort to pay tribute to the stories we shared.
For two weeks, our family took the time to look others in the eye and receive their words, unhampered by our regular daily agendas.
We returned home to the fast current of first days and school year preparation, but the slower speed had done its work. In small ways, I feel as though I’ve been taught how to walk again: neither hurrying ahead of Him in worry, as I am apt to do, nor lagging behind with a preoccupied air, unable to see the landscapes and people passing before my very eyes. I’ve been learning to order our lives a bit differently, and seeking to retain the best elements of a more intentional pace.
The pace at which the visitors and inhabitants of our home are seen, and known.
The pace at which teaching a child of the grace and glory of God melds together with unhurried conversations about living books and real life situations.
The pace at which writing is gleaned from a ripening life: plump-grained handfuls from whatever section the Lord of the Harvest allots to me.
As all of us enter a new season, with whatever adventures it may hold:
Godspeed to you, friends. In every sense of the term.