I have made my way to Alaska once again. It takes a bit to travel that distance. Along the way there are ‘planes, trains, and automobiles.’ In addtion to those, once you are in Alaska there is almost certainly going to be a boat or ship involved. There’s lots of water up here, so one will have to ride the waves a bit. It is a long journey and many modes of transport are needed to make this trek.
In the midst of such travels you encounter others—some memorable, some not. When we travel we find that others are making their journeys as well. Flights tend to fill up with folks. Ferries tend to take many from one dock to another. So there are ample opportunities to connect with our fellow travelers.
Last year I was the last person to board one of my flights. My seat was by the window immediately behind first class. There was a bouquet of flowers sitting on it when I approached and a young man occupied the middle seat. “For me?” I exclaimed. “No, for my wife,” he replied with a laugh. He had been to visit family and wanted to bring something nice back for her having letting him make the trip. We struck up a nice conversation that lasted perhaps 30 minutes before each of us faded into our screens, but it was a real connection. It was what my son sometimes calls a ‘single serving friend,’ those folks with whom we share a small portion of the journey.
As I sat waiting for a flight, a woman was there with her young daughter, who was maybe 3 or 4 years old. The daughter was fussing and at one point rolling in the floor throwing a bit of a fit. I tried to smile in her direction, and the attention of a stranger stopped her tantrum. In a minute or two she had gotten up, walked around behind the row of seats we occupied, and suddenly began to rub my head. She told me she liked my hair. Now this was a surprise! I thanked her and told her that her hair was very pretty as well. The mother now joined the conversation and we learned a bit about one another and what brought us to that place together at the moment. It was a brief encounter, but definitely more of a connection than getting through TSA check points or ordering fast food.
While waiting in Seattle for my flight I spied a group of folks who were all wearing the same brightly-colored orange shirts as I was. On our mission trip we are encouraged to wear the same shirts so that we could be easily identified and also share with others what we were up to when they asked. I walked over to the group and said, “You must be going to Alaska.” And thus we greeted one another and exchanged names and made our way towards the gate and the next leg of the trip. These people would fill the next week of life with energy and enthusiasm and emotion. Our paths would not just cross but converge for a while.
Actually arriving in Alaska meant meeting some of the folks with whom I had been having conversations ahead of time—mainly Joe and Bekah, the organizers of this trip. These greetings were warm and welcoming and conveyed a sense of belonging. There would be many conversations over the course of the next week between us. I would get to know their thoughts on life and mission and the future. We would discuss deep matters of heart and soul. We would become friends in short order. These people would become part of my life journey, not just this one trip.
I believe it was Ram Dass, the Buddhist spiritual teacher, who said, “we are all just walking each other home.” Life is a journey from where we start to where we end. The process is a pilgrimage in which we encounter new places and people who shape where we go next. The path is strewn with people who enter into our lives—some superficially for a brief moment, while others enter to walk with us—maybe all the way to the end. Some people will cross our paths many times. Some people will walk beside us during difficult passages. Some will bring us lessons and learning. Some will give us encouragement or enlightenment. Some will lift and carry us at points along the way.
We may be doing some of that for others as well. It is a good thing to remember that what I do with this day, with this portion of the trip, may make a difference in someone else’s journey. Sometimes we are surprised when others tell us that we have made a difference in their pilgrimage, but we are affecting others on a daily basis.
Last year, I met traveling companions who have had a powerful effect on my life and my journey. I may have made an impression on others—someone told me I did. We go step by step, leg by leg, along the way that lies before us.
This year, I have met more. I am blessed to have shared another portion of the pilgrimage with those who made last year so memorable. I am blessed to have met more companions who I will carry with me along my journey. In the days to come I will probably post about some specific traveling companions and their effects on me. Some companions are surely worthy of the attention!
I have spent hours driving by myself. I have flown unaccompanied numerous times. I have hiked more miles solo than I could easily count. But I always come home with more companions than I left with—that’s a joy.