I never write about Indiana. I do, but rarely and that is peculiar for I spend a good amount of time there travelling between two homes. It is the travel between past and present and between two presents.
I am never lost there, which is rare. The other night I couldn’t get back from Evanston without getting turned around, but in Indiana I have always had my bearings in spite of trying to lose them by often getting off route 30 to travel country roads and see something new on those Chicago to Ohio and back again trips.
The state has peculiar byways….
Memorial Day 2012, I am getting off 30 and cutting north toward the lake. I take no note of the route number, but the sign tells me it will lead north to LaPorte. It does and there I see the never before seen pocket of lakes, which gives this landlocked town a nautical understanding of itself. On the way, I hit a large black snake that was making its way across the road. I felt badly as it was the largest I had seen since my youth and upon returning to Chicago, I tried to identify its species, but came to no firm conclusion.
I spent a few minutes on one of the town’s beaches and as I made my way south again toward 30, I see the preparations for a parade that will mark the beginning of summer. It was only appropriate as I always honor the summer more than any other season. The soon to be parade instilled in me an appreciation of that weekend, which was filled with a “walking far from home” start of summer.
Only the days in Ohio that weekend was not really an away from home experience. I had after all seen family and a friend, though I saw them in new ways. And I had gone to familiar places to hike, but had done so on new trails. I had new experiences to attach to old stories and I met a few people who gave me stories that were entirely new. It was that weekend I met a German father and his two young daughters, one of which was bent on “catching an eagle.” I saw them twice on that walk through Highbanks Metro Park; my second encounter confirmed that she was unsuccessful in her endeavor.
That was the last Ohio hike I took that weekend. The next day I made my way back toward Chicago trying to lose myself on the back roads of Indiana and thinking of the previous days, which gave me much cause to think. I could do some of that in Ohio, but I did not linger there and did not try too hard to think in the state which already gave me much in the way of thought. I did not even allow the turbines of Van Wert to give me the cause to reflect, but that was okay for they had done that often enough already.
On this trip back, I would think on my Indiana stories. There was now hitting the black snake and the LaPorte parade. There had been losing tire pressure from Chicago to Plymouth, the grist mill, the grotto at Notre Dame, spinning off the icy cloverleaf on the 30 and 69 interchange, driving through Nappanee, buying the Amish doll, the sunrise on the Ohio border, the welling up of tears on the frantic drive back to Chicago to beat a noon deadline, and there were the “prayers like weeds.” I see those often in Indiana as I do in Ohio….places marked with crosses and flowers and the crosses never disappear.
On another Indiana drive…..the flashing red lights and the car nearly bent in half are not reassuring. She asks if we can pray. I agree noting I will keep my eyes open and on the road. As she crosses herself, I know she is praying that there be no cross on this stretch of route 6. It would not be the only time she would do that in my presence and to this day, I find myself doing the same because of her. I am not sure if all these prayers are answered. After all, there are many prayers along the roadways. They run like weeds and I know they are always the ones for comfort in the time of grief and the invocation that a person never be forgotten.
On the Memorial Day drive, I had no occasion to pray, the only evidence of fatality being the rather large reptile. Upon making it back to the city, I turned on NPR in a Dominick’s parking lot and heard that we are not promised tomorrow. It was a Memorial Day broadcast and a reminder that death always attends us. I had not thought about it on that trip. Why would I? In four days, I did nothing but live and had done so in vital fashion. The broadcast served to remind me that my life had been charmed, but there were no guarantees it would stay that way. And it had not stayed that way for so many who were much younger than I.
When I finally made it through the door, I thought of Indiana. I thought of all those trips on route 30. It is 362 miles on that route from Merrillville to Massillon; 146 of those miles are in Indiana. If I could ever capture a life lived on the road, those would be the miles I will speak of. Maybe it is time to give a few of those stories their due. When I do I will think of the icy patch that could have become a cross on the side of the road and with that the sobriety that it could have been a marker for two lives, one of which was very young. It is true that we traverse life, but by the grace of God.
Indiana has been the crosses at the side of the road and the sign of the cross. It is a reminder that life is a gift. Amid the signs for cheap fireworks and cigarettes, and the reminder gas is cheaper when you pay with cash, it is this greater thing. In Indiana, every mile has been marked with a prayer and some of those were mine. These are the prayers of “walking far from home,” but not too far and they are a reminder that our prayers can be heard in the presence of another or in that solitude when we are in the presence of the One who is larger than us.