I’ve been on the road lately, chewing up miles crisscrossing from Pennsylvania through Ohio and up to Michigan or down to Indiana. The gas companies will probably send me a gift certificate on my birthday for all the money I’ve dumped into them.
Flying today is what old Buckwheat called a “nusome” in the “Our Gang” shorts of long ago. I don’t do it unless it is an absolute necessity.
The virtual strip-search through security is bad enough. But the airports have become lonelier places once the loved ones were banned from the terminals. I find the whole flying thing not just a Buckwheat nuisance but downright depressing.
So, I drive a lot. And Interstate 80 across Ohio has become my neighborhood street.
If today’s airport terminals are depressing, interstate highways define boredom. I’d advise anyone who thinks that the days go by too quickly to roll on down an interstate. As God is my witness, somewhere on Interstate 80 in Ohio between Elyria and Toledo time comes to a stop.
The experts will tell you that the interstates created speed. Travel in the past took you through every little town and tourist trap along the way. A four-hour drive through Ohio could take you eight or nine hours back in the day, through a world of carved yard ornaments, tarot-card readers and stands with caramel popcorn that could chip a tooth.
But it was a world that you could touch, feel and taste. Driving the interstate is like passing through a disease control center. On the interstate, there is no there there.
So I crank out the miles while the brain seems to go at it in neutral. Good people I know say the Rosary or listen to inspiring audiobooks as they coast along. I just don’t have the wherewithal for either. I like to think when I pray, and pray when I think. Driving doesn’t seem to let me do either.
So I spend the time searching on the radio for oldies stations because I always forget to bring along my Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel and Kingston Trio CDs. On this last trip, I reached in to see if I had anything and discovered about six Christmas albums my spouse had on board. I wasn’t going to listen to “White Christmas” three days before Ash Wednesday.
On this last weekend’s pilgrimage, about the 10th time I heard “Never My Love,” I was about to give up completely when they played “Daniel,” an Elton John tune from about a year after I graduated from college.
The story is that he chopped off the last verse to keep it short enough for release as a single. The last verse actually explained the song as a vague anti-war ballad about a guy’s blind older brother, a Vietnam vet, heading off for Spain.
But as the abridged song plays as we know it, it speaks of a younger brother searching the night sky. Sir Elton may not have meant it that way, but the song has resonated for nearly 40 years now as an ode to an older brother’s death.
“I can see Daniel waving goodbye. God it looks like Daniel. Must be the clouds in my eyes.” I listened to it as Sir Elton finished, breaking up in static as I moved out of range. “Lord, I miss Daniel. Oh, I miss him so much.”
There I was in a car with 60,000 miles on it plugging along on an endless interstate. It reminded me how amazing is the persistence of the ordinary after a loved one is gone.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux insisted we are saved by how we live in that ordinary. It’s where sanctity burns brightest. The extraordinary will then take care of itself.
I know she’s right. So I’ll keep working at it.
But Lord, I miss him so much.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.