Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Life of the Journey

Hawthorne Community Center
The Shell gas station in Dickson, Tennessee probably wouldn't stand out in anyone's memories of a drive across the country. Neither would the adjacent 'Sudden Service' quickie mart (unless of course you happen to notice the walk-in cooler in the back, glass door luring you in with its decal letter message: Welcome to the Beer Cave). Few if any of the dozens of highway interchange stops we'd made would end up being burnished into memory, really, except for one thing: the people we met.

Roberta, one of the Sudden Service clerks, kept the line of customers inside waiting as she lingered outside next to the truck. 'I"m serious, you guys...this is amazing...' Her Boston accent dripped with sincere emotion and morning humidity. 'How absolutely beautiful...' She dropped a note in and stood still for a moment before climbing back down off the truck. 'Well this is an honor...being a part of this...' She might have remained there on the oily cement all day if her eyes hadn't started tearing up. 'You guys...take care of yourselves...'
Roberta's co-worker Linda didn't stick around nearly as long. 'I gotta go, you guys are making the hairs on my arms stand up.' Linda was the first person we encountered with a visible, emotional aversion to holding or even touching the chunk of the WTC rubble we had been showing to people. 'No thanks,' she said a half dozen different ways in the time it took to take a step backwards, away from that heavy piece of steel. Kellie Winn from Bivins, Texas was working at a coal power plant in Mt. Storm, West Virginia on September 11th; unlike many across the country that day, he had no time to stare at the television to watch events unfold as his facility supplied power to Washington, DC. As we were climbing into the truck he pulled out his wallet. 'You fellas need a little help along your way?' Jon politely refused, as he had many times before, with varying results.

Indiana, to the surprise of at least one of us, did not consist merely of flat open farm field. The rolling green hills of Kentucky bled right over the Ohio River and stayed with us most of our way to Indianapolis. Our plan was to meet with the gentlemen of IFD's Station 18, in the neighborhood of Evan (aka Kamp Indy), a good friend of Jon's who had sweat corn oil trying to make sure some of his community would be able to see the Cross despite our ever-changing schedule. But in a phone conversation with the Public Information Officer for the IFD we learned that without prior approval we were not allowed to involve any of the firemen in any way with any manner of activity related to the project; we couldn't take pictures, couldn't talk to them, and they were not to give us a glass of water. Oddly, outside the fire house we happened to drop a card or two with the address for this blog on them; guys, if you are reading this, we'd like to unofficially thank you for the work you do and the sacrifices you and your brothers and sisters make every day, all across our country.

We did have the opportunity to meet some people from the neighborhood while we were there, parked dangerously close to Station 18. Among them were three young men, very open about their love for 'Naptown' and quite reflective on events that occurred when they were in 7th and 8th grade. DeMarco remembered how sad he himself was, but also felt this was a chance for our country to stand up, bounce back together 'no matter who messes with us.' His buddies nodded in agreement. 'We have to stick together, because we live together.' Robert then took a set of rosary beads, given him by a friend's mom who brought them from Mexico, and put them in the cross. 'The Rosary is important to me,' he explained. 'I feel safe, I feel blessed with that.' In his eyes he looked no less blessed without them.

Down the street at the Hawthorne Community Center we were overwhelmed by about two hundred people, from seniors all the way down to kindergarteners. The warm sun beamed down like a gentle blessing after the heat of New Orleans and Memphis as the people of this welcoming neighborhood milled around, taking pictures and writing notes, asking questions and offering their thoughts. Evan's mom was among the crowd, noting with lingering shock that 'such a strong nation could be attacked like that.' Like everyone else across the country that day, she went through the shock and the fear and the why. 'But on the Net messages came in from all over the world,' she said. 'So many people were with us. That helped me sleep better at night.'

As we drove north toward Elkhart, Indiana Jon talked the journey, and how unsure he had been at the outset as to what it was really all about. 'I'm not an attention-seeker,' he said, gazing out at the now-flat horizon. 'But I feel a lot more confident about why I'm doing this, what it means...the power it has for people.' Indeed, it has been the people we've met that has given this journey life.