Special Report: The Road Trip
Vol: 43 Issue: 21 Thursday, April 21, 2005
I got a call the other day from my younger brother, TJ, who lives in Northern Virginia just outside Washington. It has been a while since I heard from him.
TJ works for The Government. (If I told you more, I think I am obliged under Homeland Security rules to kill you. . . THAT ‘government’)
TJ called to tell me that Mom was down visiting from Buffalo over her birthday, and would I like to come for a visit?
I don’t see Mom that much, either, and since she had made it halfway to my neck of the woods, I decided to meet her in the middle.
Mom is special to me. She isn’t really my mom, but she is the only mom I know. My mother died when I was only ten — Dad remarried three years later, so Mom has been ‘Mom’ to me for the last forty-odd years.
It wasn’t always easy between us — I suppose, at that tender age, that I was still a bit mad at God for taking my mother, and I carried over some of that resentment when Dad introduced us to our new ‘Mom’.
Despite it all, Mom was always there for me. My family is notorious for not keeping in touch. Not because we aren’t close, but rather, because we are so close that we don’t really need to keep tabs on each other. In all the time I was in the service, I got about six letters from family.
Except for Mom. She wrote me every week like clockwork, and every few weeks, one of her letters would contain a couple of crisp twenties — a fortune to a young Marine making $118.10 per month.
So Tuesday morning, after I uploaded the OL and updated the websites, I slipped my laptop into its case and headed for Virginia. (Gayle’s mom is down visiting us, so Gayle stayed here and I made the trip solo.)
I love road trips, especially those that I make alone. It isn’t because I don’t enjoy travelling with Gayle — she is a born road trip partner.
She can go as long as I can between pit stops, doesn’t get hungry on the road (neither do I) and she is about the only person I ever knew whose driving I trusted enough to allow myself to catch forty winks from the passenger seat.
But a long road trip gives me an opportunity to be alone with God, and as I drive, my mind goes over all those important thoughts that don’t usually get my undivided attention.
It was a beautiful day for a drive — one of those ‘top-down, tunes up’ kind of days when time is relative and I truly am as old (or as young) as I feel.
Driving up the I-95 corridor as I have so many times since I was a young Marine stationed at Cherry Point, it was as if time was a variable; in my mind’s eye, I’d drift back to the days when I was pushing my ’65 Valiant for all it was worth to keep up with interstate traffic speeds.
In those days, like now, I was looking forward to seeing Mom, knowing that on the other end of that road was that home-cooked meal that only Mom could prepare.
I drove past a now-abandoned garage just off the interstate outside Richmond, and recalled the time I pulled in to see if they had any second-hand tires for sale that were any better than the four bald ones I was trusting my life to.
In my mind’s eye, as I passed it, I could almost see it as it was thirty years ago, with all four bays filled with vehicles under repair, with cars lined up at the pumps to buy twenty-seven-cent-per-gallon leaded gas.
One of the things about a road trip that I am not quite as fond of are the regrets. When I am alone in my car, I tend to dwell on the things in my life I wish I had done differently, not done at all, or have not yet made amends for.
I thought about when we were all kids and how I used to pick on TJ. TJ was only four when he became my little brother. Until then, he had been an only child, and we had some issues that needed to be resolved.
(I am glad TJ never could hold a grudge.)
I also thought about how much I loved and appreciated Mom, and I resolved to make sure she knew it this trip. I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated her loyalty.
She and Dad were married just ten years when Dad died of lung cancer in 1975. Mom was just 43. She never remarried. To my knowledge, she hasn’t gone out on a date in thirty years. I told her once that Dad would understand and that he would have wanted her to have a full, rich life.
She told me that ‘her kids’ were her life, and besides, if she remarried, she wouldn’t be ‘Mom’ to us anymore.
I never really understood her reasoning at the time. Today, I am almost the same age as my father was when he died. Driving along I-95, I both understood why she never looked at another man, and, for the first time, truly appreciated her loyalty to Dad — and to us.
Mom is a little-bitty Italian lady, but when it came to her kids, she was as fierce as a junk yard dog. She could do with a rolling pin what Roger Maris only dreamed of doing with his Louisville Slugger, but let an outsider get in the way and they’d think they just gotten a job taking cubs away from a lioness.
She believed in corporal punishment, and she certainly made a believer out of me. Everything I am today is because of that fiesty little Italian who took in three orphans and dedicated herself to ensuring they were never orphans again.
As I turned off the interstate and headed through the rolling green northern Virginia countryside, I thought of what I might have been, were it not for Mom.
I noticed my cell phone was beeping — I must not have heard it over the blaring of the traffic and my CD player. The return number was TJ’s — I was only an hour away — so I ignored it and returned to my thoughts.
I thought about all the birthdays I missed because I was halfway around the country (or around the world) and all the times that I sent flowers instead of taking the time to see her. I was going to make it up, this visit.
I knew that Mom was busy preparing a special dinner for the occasion,and this time I promised myself that was going to let her know just how much she means to me.
I had a million things I wanted to say to her, a million regrets I wanted to set right, and a million sins that I wanted absolution for.
It was the first time I had been to TJ’s house in Virginia. He lives in a nice neighborhood well off the beaten path at the end of a cul-de-sac. The closer I got, the sharper my anticipation.
I realized, to my shame, that it had been more than a year since I last gave her a hug. I was only a few minutes away from fixing that.
TJ met me at the door. “I tried to call you,” he said. “Mom was all excited about your coming. She was making you a special dinner.”
TJ looked away. “Mom’s in the hospital. She was chopping artichoke hearts when suddenly she couldn’t hold the knife. Her speech got all slurred and we thought maybe she was having a ‘sugar-episode’,” he said in reference to Mom’s diabetes.
He paused. “Mom’s just had a massive stroke.”
When I got to see her, Mom was hooked up to wires and hoses and machines. She looked so tiny and helpless. Her speech was slurred, one side of her face drooped, and she was crying in frustration at her inability to speak to me.
(I didn’t get a chance to say any of the things I wanted to, either.)
After we left the hospital, I went back to TJ’s but it wasn’t much of a visit. I got up the next morning, hours before dawn, and headed for home.
All the way home, I thought about the lesson God had taught me about time and opportunity.
“Then He spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” (Luke 12:16-19)
It occurred to me that I had spent much of the six hours headed to see my Mom doing exactly the same thing as the rich man in the parable.
“But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee . . .” (Luke 12:20)
The doctors expect Mom to survive, but she will require extensive physical therapy, and to this point, we aren’t sure to what degree she will suffer permanent damage. But the lesson of the parable of the rich man was burned into my soul.
I was eagerly anticipating the chance to show Mom how much I appreciated her for saving us from what might have been.
I wanted to tell her how grateful I was for her sacrifice of love, and I wanted to tell her that her sacrifice had not been in vain.
I wanted to let her know that I knew how great a gift she had bestowed on me and that I hadn’t wasted it.
But there wasn’t time.
It put me in mind of the Sacrifice that saved me from a Christless eternity and how much I had wasted of the Gift of salvation that was secured for me at Calvary’s Cross.
I thought about the chances I had missed to share that Gift, assuming I would get another, more convenient opportunity later.
I thought about all the times I didn’t demonstrate my gratitude, and I realized how fleeting the opportunity to do the right thing actually is.
One second, Mom was chopping artichokes in eager anticipation of my arrival, in the next, she was lying on the floor.
There is no guarantee of a second chance to do the right thing.
Every person you meet has an eternal destiny. Either they will spend eternity in the presence of Christ, in eternal peace and joy, or they will spend an eternity apart from Christ, alone and nameless, sharing the in the Lake of Fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
And every person you meet is like my Mom — only one heartbeat away from that eternal destiny. We may have only one opportunity to share with them the love of Christ and the promise of salvation for all those Who trust Him.
We might not feel like it when the opportunity arises — we might be tempted to wait for a better opportunity.
We may not get one.