14 May 2007

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

That was the name of an old Iron Maiden song. I always found the title to be a whole lot more interesting and memorable than the song itself. I couldn't even tell you how it goes, actually, except to say that it would have involved lots of screaming guitars. Anyway, I ran cross country in high school, and that's probably why the title of the song struck such a chord with me. I haven't done any long distance running for many years now, but I thought of the phrase again yesterday, as I was travelling home from Minnesota.

As usual, I spent more time sitting and waiting in airports than flying. I don't mind too much. I don't mind flying, either, other than the fact that my dear wife gets anxious about it. Sitting and waiting in airports is not the most enjoyable part of it, but I do appreciate layovers that are long enough to enjoy a real meal. Coming home from Novosibirsk two years ago, I ended up spending my several hours in Frankfort waiting in a series of lines for security checks. At least I didn't have to figure out what to do with myself.

Return trips are always more tedious than travelling to wherever it is that I was going. Flying home from Novosibirsk is always a marathon, one extraordinarily long day (moving with the sun through a dozen different time zones), and I'm always so tired to begin with that it all becomes a surrealistic fog. It typically happens that I make it to Chicago (having already flown over South Bend on the way there), and then spend a few hours waiting for my thirty-minute final flight home. It's been more than once that I've sat like a zombie in a daze at Chicago, O'Hare, sagging and sighing in every molecule of my being, in body, mind and spirit.

Yesterday's trip was hardly to be compared with a thirty-hour journey from Siberia. I had a good night's sleep, and a fairly relaxed morning. There were others with earlier flights, with whom I was transported to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, so I was there in plenty of time to get my bearings. Treated myself to a liquid desert from Starbucks and an Entertainment magazine, and had a pleasant wait for my plane to board.

I only had an hour or so to wait at Chicago, O'Hare, shortly after lunchtime. Basically enough time to eat a proper meal. Tried to call home on my cell phone, but my thoughtful older children had called my wife to wish her a Happy Mothers' Day. That meant I had time to myself, to sit and think about life, the universe and everything. It was at that point that the title of that old Iron Maiden song came to mind. I didn't waste any time trying to remember the song, but did ponder the similarities to long distance travelling.

I've always been a bit of a people watcher. I like to observe the way that people interact with each other, and to envision the context and narrative that are their lives. As I child, I was fascinated by the fact that there are these whole "worlds" of existence, so to speak, that are lived by all these other people. Mind-boggling, and a bit overwhelming. I'm stunned and relieved that the Author and Giver of life has His eye on each and all of us. If sparrows don't fall out of the sky apart from His gracious providence, then it's sure and certain that the airplanes all us sons and daughters of Adam & Eve are strapped inside won't fall out from under His oversight.

It seems to me that travelling, both the flying and the waiting in airports, is like a microcosm of forty years in the wilderness. For me it is, anyway. Not just because of being in between where I'm coming from and where I'm going. There's that, too. But for me there is this more profound sort of loneliness that settles upon me, when I'm surrounded by hundreds and thousands of other people, and yet I don't know any of them, and I don't have any connection to any of them, and everyone is racing past in their own little parallel universes. It makes me more aware of my fraility and weakness, and how little I am in control of my life in this world. The Lord lets me hunger, and then He feeds me, and I am reminded that I do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Would that I were more like the sparrows, and the young ravens which do cry, waiting in faith upon the One who opens His hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing.

Every homecoming is a little crossing of the Jordan into the promised land. But we are still strangers and aliens, pilgrims on a journey to a land we cannot see but by faith and hope in the sure and certain promises of God. We are fellow heirs with Christ, and our citizenship is in heaven, in that city whose builder is the Lord. I'm glad for the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, by which He leads me to His milk & honey.


Zaripest said...

I'm glad to see that you have started a blog, dad! I've thought for a long time that you would probably like to do one, but I have never started one myself because I'm pretty sure I would end up neglecting it for ages! Clearly, however, you are thoughtful and verbose enough to keep one going! :-)

I haven't been keeping in touch with you as much as I have been with mom--partly because you just went on your trip--but I hope and assume that mom has been and will be passing on all of the tidbits that I've shared with her.

I'm looking forward to seeing, and going on a trip with you in July! :-D

DoRenaBeana said...

I agree with Pook, nice to see you've started a blog! I didn't know about it until Emily mentioned it yesterday. I really enjoyed reading all your posts, keep it up! :D
(and BTW, your fan club will be informed!)

DoRenaBeana said...

Oh,and I almost forgot to ask -- does "sword in hat" happen to be a Harry Potter reference? ;o)

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Yes, of course.

In a double-entendre sort of way.

I'm glad you like it ;-)

Debbie Theiss said...

WOW! Finally! I have often wondered, as a fan of yours, of course, why you never had a blog. I must agree with your wonderful son, you are verbose enough to keep one going!