Observations: Take the long way home

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

If traveling from one end of the country to the next, certainly flying is easier. But sometimes taking the long way home is the way to go. Mitch Traphagen photos.

If traveling from one end of the country to the next, certainly flying is easier. But sometimes taking the long way home is the way to go. Mitch Traphagen photos.

In Minneapolis, I canceled my return flight to Tampa and kept my rental car. I’ve made a number of trips up North since my friend died in May. This one was, perhaps, to bring closure. I helped to pack up a part of his life. The next time I return, perhaps in a month or in two months, it will mostly be gone. From mere appearances, the world moves on. But inside, in hearts, minds and memories, moving on doesn’t happen so easily.

I decided a few days of driving would provide time to think, to reflect, to question, to even get angry, if that came about.

I’ve driven from Florida to Minneapolis so many times, in every conceivable way. One route is utilitarian in being nearly direct, albeit not exactly the most beautiful way to cross the country. Other routes have new things to see; other routes still have portions that are downright beautiful. True Americana is alive and well in some parts of our increasingly digital nation.

Back in another century when I was in college, I enjoyed taking philosophy classes, both general ed and business philosophy and ethics as part of my business major. Somehow I had managed to convince myself that morality didn’t really exist — ethics were all that mattered. Ethics were uniform and universal, after all. The bottom line was simply to do the right thing, with the right thing always being clear and morality being subjective and subject to being subverted, thus not having a valid role.

But I was just an idiot kid back then. To me it seems now that the glue that holds us together as a nation is based on morality. A common sense nearly indefinable that we all share, at least those of us who care, in holding the United States of America and American ideals in our hearts, both for today and for the future — even a future distant enough to extend beyond our lifetimes.

By and large, we are people who care, despite that, in this era, some entities, and occasionally even our own government have apparently, if temporarily (I believe), veered off that course.

Driving across the country provided the opportunity to prove that. So many people, so different, yet with commonalities deep in our American hearts and souls.

Taking the long way included a stop at the Mississippi River, where the air felt so fresh, so cool and clean I had to force myself away.

Taking the long way included a stop at the Mississippi River, where the air felt so fresh, so cool and clean I had to force myself away.

And then there is the country itself. The beauty of this nation is boundless. I saw enormous fields of wind generators, so large and so close to the road as to appear ominous and intimidating, yet beautiful in the orange glow of a sunset set against a pink horizon. I saw the purple mountain majesty with a hint of haze in the setting sun in the Great Smoky Mountains. I saw great cities and Great Plains. There is beauty in all of it for those willing to open their eyes to see.

In my shoes there is sand from a Florida beach, dirt from Iowa and burrs on my shoelaces from a photo expedition with a friend in a beautiful part of far suburban Minneapolis. In a way, my shoes represented the drive. It is amazing that in a single, if long, day of driving you can see so much variation in America. The people are different, they sound different. The food is different, soda is “pop” and apparently a sweet tooth is a regional thing, as some of what is on shelves in gas station convenience stores in the North do not exist in the South, and vice versa.

In the thousands of miles and a few dozen hours behind the wheel, I saw this nation anew and thought about my friend. The drive was lonely, and I recalled an email he sent not long before he died in which he quoted Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac from a DVD named Sound City (highly recommended for those of us of a certain age):

“The down side these days is thinking that, ‘I can do this all on my own.’  Yes, you can do this on your own but you’ll be a much happier human being if you do it with other human beings.”

Both Fleetwood and my friend were referring to music — but that philosophy can apply to so many things. While certainly there are upsides to libertarianism, the concept taken to an extreme seems to be destructive. No man or woman is an island. Yes, as Americans we proudly proclaim that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps but the reality is that we need each other.

Somehow, in an America in which Iowa or Minnesota could well be on different planets than Florida or Georgia, we have a collective mind that has built this nation into the greatest, most powerful country on Earth — the greatest in the history of humanity. People of success deserve their success, but for the most part this nation was built by the many rather than the few or the one.

Driving down a long highway, I realized that I wished I actually heard those words from my friend when he sent them to me rather than after he was gone. Would things be different? I don’t know. But I know I’d be a happier human being trying to accomplish something with other human beings, or at least with my friend Jon in the case of music, even if just for fun.

I wished he were here to give it a try. But the miles passed and I was home via the long way, still moving on.

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