Note: In two weeks, the name of this column will change. Modern Life will become Finding My Way. This move coincides with the release of my new book “Finding My Way: A Latter-day Pilgrim, an Ancient Path, a Closer Walk with Christ.” The weekly content of these columns will not change in tone, style or direction. It simply allows my various writing projects to cluster under a single umbrella. Now, on with the column.
How are you spending your summer vacation? I started mine by driving my 11-year-old Honda 5,200 miles. I drove to Washington, D.C., and back to be part of the high school graduation of a very happy granddaughter. Due to other commitments, my wife stayed home. So it was just me, the open road, the radio, excellent air conditioning and my favorite CDs.
This is, admittedly, the stuff that dreams are made of. From Alexis de Tocqueville to Jack Kerouac to Paul Simon, we’ve all come to look for America.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done a cross country run. But it was the laziest. Permit me to list a few of my observations, in no particular order, and certainly not ranked in order of importance.
First, we’re getting gouged on gasoline. I saw prices above $3.00 per gallon in Idaho, Utah…and nowhere else. Along my route through the central Midwest and East, including cities, gas prices hovered around $2.60. The cheapest gas I saw was $2.43, in Washington, DC.
In case you’re wondering, the world’s largest truck stop (self-anointed—I haven’t been able to independently verify the claim) is on I-80 in Iowa near the Illinois border. I stopped in to investigate. It is, in fact, really, really big, but the WiFi was lousy.
There’s still a lot of flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Seeing it in quiet, three-dimensional real life, instead of voiced-over two-dimensional news video is much more impactful. God bless the farmers caught in nature’s angry cross-hairs.
There’s a motel in Nebraska where the WiFi sign-on is popcorn24. This is because they proudly offer free fresh popcorn 24 hours a day to all comers. This, my friends, is marketing at its finest.
Indiana roads are a step below all the states surrounding them. I’ve never dodged more freeway potholes in my life.
Finally, much is made over the divisions that exist in America today. During my travels I saw several billboards reminding motorists of Abraham Lincoln’s observation on what happens to divided houses. But by the end of my trip I decided the problem isn’t as bad as we think.
To put it simply, I realized the stridency of our take-no-prisoner divisions is being forced upon us by a relatively small group of people in this nation of 330 million, who, in every single case, stand to profit financially by fomenting anger and distrust of others.
The problem is not that we hold different opinions, it’s the relentlessness of the message that our differences are unreconcilable and must unavoidably generate anger.
This simply isn’t true. You have friends with whom you occasionally disagree. So do I — even if our friend owns a collection of AR-15s, or believes that universal health care isn’t the worst idea ever for the richest nation on earth.
Every friendship hinges on the things we have in common, and politely sees beyond what separates us. My wife loves me, even if she grits her teeth if I plop down on the couch when “there’s work to be done.” And I love her, even if she falls asleep while watching a movie I love, and, upon waking, declares the movie she has just missed to be dumb.
Intelligent people can hold different opinions and still be kind, loving and open towards each other—sort of like walking and chewing gum at the same time. I was refreshed to see this first hand from one end of the country to the other. That’s part of our magic as Americans. It’s just that these days we have to work harder than usual to remember it.