Reading rocks, but life is lovelier!
There are simply some things in this world that you can't learn from a textbook. Oh, there are formulas and theories, sentence structures and definitions, but these rules on paper can't really teach you how to make your way through life. That wisdom comes, I believe, simply from living. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love to read, and curling up with a good story is one of my favorite ways to spend a lazy day. But to really make sense of our world and our relationship to it, we need to live it. We need to camp, hike, eat and explore. To listen, talk, plant, and love. To create. To dance dizzily into the night. It is the lesson you learn through experience that you keep with you always.
Which is why I cherish summer camp and baseball league, art projects, outdoor education and volunteering Š Why I took my 5th grade class to the beach and the recycling center and the compost pile to learn about pollution and conservation Š And why I knew without a doubt that the US Trek would be one of the grandest learning experiences of my life.
Going to the sites where history happened, and having the opportunity to climb into the archives, then conduct the interviews myself, has taught me more about the past of our country than I ever dreamed I'd know. I've had the opportunity to visit historic sites as varied as the African Burial Grounds in NYC and a Civil War POW camp in Georgia. I've interviewed a Vet forever scarred by the Korean War and an honest-to-goodness Okie from the Dust Bowl, climbed into the oozing goo of the La Brea Tar Pits, and bowed my head where four students were slain at Kent State University.
I now know that much more about the history of our country and about how it's told, what is told, and by whom. But I now know that much more about myself too.
The relationships that we've developed along the way have been life changing. When you think about it, it makes sense. Take 10 very diverse, very amazing people from all corners of the country (and one from abroad) and pair them up for a month at a time together. Have them research together and write together, have them drive and eat and sleep and have car troubles together. Have them cry and laugh and love together. With each month and each new person there's a new sense of humor to encounter, a different passion, a fresh perspective, distinct priorities.
We trekkers have gotten to know each other really well now, and nowhere is that more evident than the way we have learned each other's food habits inside out. Neda delights in fresh veggie sandwiches made on the side of the road (and watch the gleam in her eye when you mention the delightful words "ice cream.") Utopia for Teddy is filled with bowls of Vietnamese pho and an unlimited supply of beef jerky. Kevin craves steamed vegetables and cleanses his body with gallons of water each day.
The perfect apple (crisp and juicy) leaves Daphne in utter bliss and she has introduced us all to the wonders a little corn here and there can do. Potato chips (salt and vinegar please) drive Irene wild, and I found that Stephen is a sucker for raisinettes when we made our own at a parking lot picnic once. Jennifer loves her daily coffee (though a quality black tea is good too) and Stephanie revels in black breads and cheeses, but refuses to eat cereal once it's turned even slightly soggy.
The US Trek is over..The Odyssey never ends
We can also, for the most part, order a pizza for the team without asking what toppings people would like. (Everyone knows that there'll be no green pepper for me, no olives for Stephanie. Steven will want it spicy, and Neda prefers no meat. Daphne, of course, will try to add corn, and usually we'll indulge her. Tomatoes, garlic and mushrooms are always a safe bet for everyone.)
Then there are the really incredible things, the small parts of the everyday trek that have helped me shape the way I want to live my life: Neda's sweet joy and quiet confidence; the way Teddy confronts everything with laid-back style; Kevin's intense drive for justice and Daphne's magic ability to get anything done; the beauty in Irene's constant quest to learn more, to expose herself to new perspectives and ideas; Stephen's hilarious humor, fast loyalty and gentle care for others; the way Jen is so open with her feelings, so perceptive and understanding; Stephanie's utter obsession with life, packing her days with luscious experiences in the food she eats, the sights she takes in and the people she talks to; and Nick's wisdom, the purity in his words.
I want to take it all with me.
And I think, in some form, I can.
"Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'till its gone?" Joni Mitchell croons in her song Big Yellow Taxi, and more often than not, I'd say she's right. But this time, on this Trek, I think we knew what we had, and we knew it was amazing. And although we're back where we began in San Francisco, and our journey in this form is over, the Odyssey Magic (as we say behind the scenes) never really ends.
There will probably be a book about the US Trek someday, filled with our stories, our lessons, our dreams. And you should definitely read it. But don't just read our words. Let them inspire you to discover your own. And after you've finished it, go on your own trek-through your hometown, around your state, into your country, maybe across the world. You'll be amazed by how you grow, and by what you learn on the way.
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Links to Other Dispatches
Daphne - The Odyssey Trek: A cult of the BEST kind!
Irene - Baby, I was born to run (all over this country)
Jennifer - To America the beautiful and the friendly
Neda - So what exactly is a "trekker" anyway?
Nick - Taking the road less traveled
Stephanie - Make the Trek part of who you are
Stephen - Have a little faith and it will get you through