Should I Stay?

By •

To be truthful, I haven’t learned anything new. It’s been six months on the road so far, and when I take stock of what I’ve become, how I’ve changed, I find myself quite the same.

That’s probably not what you want to hear. It’s not where I thought I would be. We prefer stories of bravery and redemption, intrigue, salvation. And believe me, I would love to tell you about the time I rescued a baby from the jaws of a rabid honey badger while traversing the everglades upon Rusty, my faithful flying unicorn. But I haven’t, and I didn’t, and even after all this time, I find myself largely . . . unchanged.

I’m willing to admit to you that I did decide to spend this year wandering the country, this year on the road to, as the ever cliched phrase goes, “find myself.” I’ll admit that I wanted a change, an adventure. I’ll admit that I thought, that I deeply believed, I’d find the elusive “it” somewhere along the way, that I’d be writing in my journal while looking over the Grand Canyon and through osmosis receive a great epiphany, that the great mysteries of life would be revealed by simply breathing in the air. I imagined I’d be walking on a Carolina shoreline, or along Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, and see some elusive unnameable something that would fix all my problems, like an emotional lottery. I hate to admit to you, that even after all this time, if one existed, if given the choice, I’d take the magic pill.

But what I’ve seen, what I’ve experienced is a lot of regular everyday life, and regular, everyday life is so awfully messy.

Like in New Mexico, when I lost my keys. When you live on the road, there are no friends to hold a spare for you, no place to hold a spare for yourself. They were easily replaced by the RV company for $2.50, but shipping them overnight cost $43.

In Pasadena, while staying with one of my oldest friends from high school, the plumbing went out, a result of roots from her majestic front yard oak burrowing their way into ancient city pipes, so for four days, we took wet wipe baths and drove down to Target to use the bathroom.

In Chattanooga, my friend Steve is a year into a messy divorce. He’s drinking again and chain smoking Marlboros.

Just outside St. Louis, Pete, an old co-worker roommate has been married twenty years and has four amazing children and a wife that he is still madly in love with, but is lonely. “I feel so lost all the time,” he admitted.

A tire blew out in Arizona. It was twenty-two degrees in Alabama when my heater stopped working. An elderly aunt along the way fell and broke her hip while I was driving through San Francisco, and Hank, my beloved dog of thirteen years died when I was in Nashville.

I hate to admit to you, that even after all this time, if one existed, if given the choice, I’d take the magic pill.

John Cal

Like the prodigal son, I don’t know what I was searching for, but once I got out there, out on the road, I could only help thinking, “This wasn’t it.”

Then there’s the other son in the story of course, the one who stayed home. And it isn’t puzzling to find out that he wasn’t happy either.

“Not even a goat for a party with my friends,” he chastises his father.

“You were always with me, and everything I have is yours,” his father replies.

But we didn’t believe. We don’t believe it still, that we could be forgiven and redeemed, that joy was always ours.

In San Bernardino, my friend Allan is having a baby. He turned forty last year, and resigned himself to never having a family, but then he met a woman he loves who at forty-one thought she couldn’t have a baby either, and in May they’ll become three.

In Redding, my friend Casey just found the perfect school for his daughter with autism. Ella used to throw fits and cry herself to sleep every night, but now, she comes home talking about her friends.

In Lake Butler, Arthur Peterson is twenty pounds into his diet. He said he wants to be around longer to watch his grandchildren grow up. And even so, at 9:00 every night, he and his wife Janis have cookies, or something else sweet as a treat to celebrate the day.

In Louisville, my dear friend Whit was planning his wedding. In Tucson, Jason just returned from eighteen months of deployment in the desert. Molly, my friend Angela’s daughter in Knoxville, goes to ballet every Thursday, and when she comes home spends the rest of the evening twirling around the living room.

I'm not sure why we need to be reminded over and over again that we are forgiven and redeemed, that we are always welcome home, that we never had to leave, that the Father is with us, and that everything he has is ours.

John Cal

“Three taps?” Dorothy implores. “Three taps is all it takes?”

“You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.” Glinda says, the syrupy sweetness making the truth even less palpable.

“Then why didn’t you tell her,” begs the scarecrow.

“She wouldn’t have believed me.” Glinda replies.

We didn’t believe. We don’t believe still. And I’m not sure why we need to be reminded over and over again that we are forgiven and redeemed, that we are always welcome home, that we never had to leave, that the Father is with us, and that everything he has is ours, that to label the wandering as penance or pilgrimage is superfluous, that all sorts of life, troubling and joyful, wild and precious, are everywhere.

“Just close your eyes,” says Glinda. “Just close your eyes, tap your heels together three times, and think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home.’”

“Should I stay or should I go?” That was always the question in the beginning. I’m still not sure either way, or whether the decision matters at all. But I’m beginning to believe, if even only in incrementally minuscule amounts, that Kansas and home aren’t so far away.


  1. Josh Kemper

    It’s not about you, John. ???? Think of all the good seeds you’ve planted along the way (stifling cheesy Johnny Appleseed metaphor). I know that when you came to see us, I was greatly encouraged by you, and really benefited from your sharp mind and kind heart, and I know I’m not the only one. If you come through Texas again, we now have a nice new house where you and your slobbery roommate are always welcome.

  2. Steve

    You didn’t go out on the road for you.  You went for them, to be with them, to share in their joy and sorrow, and you went for us, to tell us their stories.  Did you think being sent out to proclaim the kingdom of God and heal the sick was about you?

  3. Matthew Cyr

    “I haven’t learned anything new,” this piece begins. But over the next thousand or so words, you that you have learned a great deal. Maybe the real education that travelling gives us, is the lesson that the elusive unnameable doesn’t reside in a place that can be found on a map, waiting for us to get there. That any destination that was easily idolized before we got there, has its own problems which we find there when we go, along with our problems we brought with us. Some of us, perhaps, need to learn by experience that “it” isn’t out there over the rainbow, so we can begin finding it at home, in lives where we were planted.

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