Ok, it’s been a few weeks since I last posted anything. That will just have to be a reality for the three of you that actually read this blog. Due to my limited amount of time, if I have any other writing or speaking projects in the midst of a week, I have to focus my attention there. Just think of it like Christmas, though; the anticipation makes it so much more fun!
I have been doing a short series of posts on lessons I learned during my bus trip around America that I continue to use to this day. Just a refresher: In 1993, I spent 9 weeks traveling through 37 states, which covered more than 12,000 miles. I spent a lot of time on the bus and in the bus station interacting with a wide variety of people and those face-to-face conversations led me to abandon my racist and prejudiced beliefs. I ultimately wrote a book about this experience and began speaking around the country (and around the world) on the topic of racism.
More important than talking about racism, though, are the interactions I get to have on a daily basis with people. I talk to thousands of people every year -not just in large audiences- but sitting down with them listening to them tell me about their lives. This sometimes happens immediately after my presentations, but more often in the schools, businesses, churches, and other places where I am consistently returning to develop relationships. Early in my conversations, I am looking to establish one of two things: what is the person running to or what is the person running from in their lives. Now, please don’t misunderstand me, especially if we have a conversation some day. This isn’t some calculated, methodological way of psychoanalyzing people. It’s just a good foundation to get to know someone.
I learned this early on in my bus trip. During the first leg of my journey, I left Lancaster, PA on January 21, 1993 around 3:00 pm and was headed to Atlanta, GA, where I would arrive the next afternoon. There was multiple bus connections I had to make in various cities including Harrisburg, York, Washington DC, and Richmond, VA. So, each bus station required a bus change in order to make a connection for the next city. Since I was new to the whole Greyhound experience, I would ask for instructions at almost every bus change. I would say to the bus attendant, “What bus do I get on?” And he would say, “Well, where are you going?” Obviously, that’s very helpful and important information.
Not only was it the way I received information from the bus station people, it was also the core of every conversation I had on the bus or in the bus station. For example: I didn’t sit with anyone or talk to anyone during my first few bus changes, but in Washington DC, I had a two-hour layover and spent some time chatting with people in line. And almost every conversation opened with, “Where are you going?” See, all of us in a particular line were headed to the same place at that moment. Everyone in that line was going to Richmond. But, the question really was, “Is Richmond your ultimate destination? Or are you headed somewhere after that?” This was almost ALWAYS how the conversations got started.
So, my first observation was that everyone is going somewhere. Everyone that was on the bus had a destination.
But, I made a second observation was built on the first. Why was that place their destination? And was the reason for them riding the bus more about getting TO that destination or was it more about them getting away FROM the place they were leaving? The first two riding partners I had show a perfect contrast of these two differing objectives.
My riding partner from Washington D.C. to Richmond was an older black man in his 60s. Let’s call him Don. The city had always been Don’s home and he built his own business after graduating from college. He was soft spoken, but very strong in wisdom and personality. When I asked him where he was going, he explained that he was headed to South Carolina to pick up a friend who had driven down there and broken his leg. Don was traveling by bus to pick up his friend and drive him back. So, he was riding the bus to get to South Carolina to do a good deed.
When I switched buses in Richmond to pick up my connection to Atlanta, I parted ways with Don and sat with a new riding partner. He was a middle-aged black man. Let’s call him Kevin. When I asked Kevin where he was going, he said, “Back home to Alabama.” He went on to explain that he had moved to New York 10 years earlier to begin a music career, but things just did not work out. He made some money at first, but then the opportunities had dried up and he was going home. So, although Alabama was his destination, Kevin spoke more of getting away from New York than heading home to Alabama.
These are not just subtle ways of saying the same thing; going to or away from something. There is a major difference between having an objective destination or retreating from that which is seeming to cause harm.
And this is not just true of bus riders. At the conclusion of my bus trip, I started to realize that this was a very good way to get to know people. Sometimes you can begin with a question like, “Where are you going?” and it will give you a lot of insight. People will tell you about their career goals, family aspirations, financial longings, and a host of other intentions they have for their lives. But as you dig deeper and talk more intimately, you can begin to focus on whether or not this person is trying to get TO their goals or trying to move AWAY from some way of life or difficulty that has been problematic in their past. In most instances, it’s probably both in one way or another.
That’s true of ourselves, as well. In fact, at any given moment I feel like I am running t0 certain things at the same time I’m running away from others. I was an alcoholic for 9 years of my life. So, it could be said that I am running to sobriety and running away from drunkenness. But that brings up more questions like; why do I think it’s important to be sober? That speaks more to an ultimate destination. That’s why I think the “to and from” observation has to always be linked with the “destination” observation. In any given moment we may be running “to” or “away” from something, BUT the ultimate destination is where we find out what’s most important.
I think we can frequently answer the question, “Where are you going?” superficially, because anything that is rooted in this world eventually ends. There is a way we can do some deeper measuring of our lives that will undergird the daily grind of “to and from” and it’s entrenched in our destination. Where are we ultimately going? This is a metaphysical question, but crucially important in understanding the focus of the journey. Every decision; every response; every moment of our lives hinges on this question: Where are we ultimately going?
Think about that today.