One morning a young man sprung from the comfort of his bed to begin a new day. Entering the shower, he turned the faucet to cold, and allowed the water to pelt his scalp and trickle down his body in icy rivulets of adrenaline. He stood beneath the water and inwardly traced the fragments of an idea as they twirled in his mind, slowly drawn, as if by a magnet, towards the center of his consciousness. Once they clicked into place, forming a clear thought, he gave warbled voice to the thought; speaking through the torrent of icy water plunging down his face:
“Today I will go to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house!”
As the words tumbled from his mouth, he felt a surge of energy, fueled by youthful confidence and idealism. Stepping back from the water, he finished the shower and turned off the flow, and then quickly reached for the towel laying on the nearby sink. As he dried his body, he began to allow his mind to consider the task to which he had committed himself. Slowly, in the back of his mind, a question began to calmly creep forward:
“How will I know the way?”
Shrugging his shoulders, he finished his morning bathroom routine, strode purposefully into his bedroom and rummaged through his closet until he found his backpack. After putting a change of clothes in, he shouldered the pack, and walked into the kitchen for breakfast. The table was set, and his mother was just turning from the stove with a bowl full of hot biscuits, when the young man shrugged out of his backpack, hung it on the back of his chair, and sat down.
“Where are you headed today?” His mother asked with slight suspicion in her voice.
“I have decided to go to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house.” He said confidently.
His mother stopped so suddenly that a biscuit tumbled off the stack in the bowl onto the floor. “Why do you need to do that?” She asked, her voice quivering.
“What do you mean ‘why?'” he responded with irritation, “I want to know what they have to teach me. It is something I must do.”
“But the road is dangerous, and there are bad people along the way. They will hurt you, and you won’t be able to make it all the way there.” She was becoming quite animated at this point. “Besides, I know what Grandfather and Grandmother have to say. Men much smarter than me or you have told me their words, and I can tell you. There is no need for you to go.”
The young man felt anger rise within, and his words became short and loud. “This is my journey to make, and I am going to make it!”
Her shoulders slumped, and she stooped down to pick up the biscuit from where it fell on the floor. “Well….I guess this is my fault. If I hadn’t been so stubborn and sinful, you wouldn’t be leaving me alone….”
Before the young man could respond, his father walked into the room and quietly took his seat at the table. His mother set the biscuits on the table, retrieved the bacon, eggs, and gravy from the stove, started to sit down, then said, “Oh…I forgot the jelly….”, looking at the young man she asked a question for which she already knew the answer, “You like jelly don’t you?” Before he could answer, she turned in her chair, got up, and went to the refrigerator to get the jelly. While hidden behind the refrigerator door, she said, “Tell your father what you are doing.” She then took her place at the table with the jelly jar in hand.
Before he could say anything, his mother and father silently bowed their heads in prayer. After awkwardly waiting for his parents to finish praying, the young man said, “I am going to Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s house, Dad. Can you tell me how to get there?”
His father reached for the plate of eggs, served himself, and passed them to the young man. As he did so, he said, “It’s great that you want to go to their house. Everybody should travel to their house. It takes courage to go there, and I am not surprised you want to go.” As the young man served himself eggs, and his mother passed the bacon to his father, the young man said, “Ok….so….what road do I take?”
“Well…” his dad said, while taking some bacon and a couple of biscuits. “I can’t really tell you which road to take.”
“But you’ve been there, right?” The young man said between bites of bacon.
“Yes, I’ve been there… but you must find your own road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house…”
The family then settled in to eat their food, and the young man didn’t say anything more. In fact, he decided as he ate, that he would just begin the trip, and figure out which way to go while he traveled.
After the meal was over, the young man removed his backpack from the chair upon which he’d been sitting, and shrugged it onto his back. After doing so, he stood awkwardly next to the table as his mother cleared away the dishes and his father stepped outside to do….something….he was never sure what his dad did during the day, he just knew he was away a lot. The young man stood waiting for his mother to take notice of his leaving, but she seemed in a rush to clean her kitchen. Finally, the young man said, “Well…I will see you later…” and began to walk slowly from the room and towards the front door. His mother turned, dropped the rag she was holding onto the counter, and said in a tired voice, “Ok…give me a hug before you leave.” The two of them continued walking to the front door, and upon reaching it, he turned and gave her a hug. She held him tightly for a long time…quite too long for him…and said, “Please be careful…and call us along the way.”
As the young man stepped out of the door and into open world, he found his father sitting in the driver’s seat of a small school bus he had recently purchased. His father was intently reading the owner’s manual, and only realized his son’s presence when the young man stepped onto the first step. The young man sensed that his father seemed faintly sad. The young man couldn’t determine whether the melancholy was connected to his own leaving, or the issues surrounding the bus which lead his dad to retrieve the owner’s manual. Life had often been this way between the father and son, with each hiding behind a wall of quietness, built for reasons which were misunderstood and unexplored by them both. They loved one another, but weren’t quite sure how to show it, and each were too absorbed with their respective lives to learn how to communicate that love in a way the other would understand. So they lived in the quietness, content in the fact of the other’s love, but seldom fully cognizant of the depth.
“I am heading out….” The young man quietly said.
After realizing his presence, his father looked up from the manual, got up from the driver’s seat, and laid the manual down. Before his father could say anything, the young man said, “I will be praying for you, Dad. I will pray that Grandfather and Grandmother will be with you in such a way that you visualize them walking beside you. I love you, Dad. Be at peace….”
The young man then turned, stepped down from the step out of the bus, and began to walk away.
“Give me a call if you……need anything…” his father said to his retreating back.
As the young man walked, tears welled up in his eyes, and began to run down his cheeks. He would have replied, but his voice was choked off due to his deep emotion. So…he just kept walking.
As he walked through the streets of the small town, he began to study the possible directions he could travel. He started asking questions of himself, but the only answers he could determine, were ones from his past experience, and something deep inside himself questioned the veracity of those answers. Somewhere along the way, he heard within himself a soft voice,
“Follow Wilderness Road…”
The young man frowned in response….
“Wilderness Road…” He thought inwardly, “Why would I travel Wilderness Road in order to reach Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s house? Grandfather and Grandmother live with people. I don’t want to go into the wilderness. It sounds lonely and hard.”
Continuing to walk, the young man was passed by numerous vehicles. Cars, and pickups pulling campers, large RV’s with ornately painted designs on the sides and shiny chrome in front and back, motorcycles and scooters… Eventually, he noticed that many of the vehicles seemed to travel in no particular direction, with no apparent rhyme or reason to their motion. They just seemed to move. With a little more study, however, he did notice some of the vehicles moving in the same general direction, but in varying speeds and with differing forays side-to-side along the way. A few of the cars seemed to be in really good mechanical condition, and looking through the windows, he noticed that the countenances of the occupants seemed to exude peace and caring for one another. He noticed how often the riders laughed with each other, and even when they seemed to be crying, it seemed they were doing it together, holding each other close in tender hugs. There were times when the faces of the front seat passengers appeared to be grim, as if in disagreement. The young man noticed that these same cars would stop from time to time, and the two companions sitting in the front seats would exit the car, pop the hood and begin to work on the engine, or open the trunk to lift out a new tire and replace one of the tires on the car with it. Often, these cars seemed to make better headway along the road, and didn’t take nearly as many detours as some of the other cars, he observed. “That is something I probably need to remember,” the young man told himself. He was also surprised that you couldn’t tell by how stylish the car appeared on the outside, what the condition of the motor, and mechanical stability of the vehicle was. Several times, he noticed a beautiful car putting along, with the engine cutting out and moving progressively slower and slower until it stopped altogether, and the occupants got out, slammed the doors yelling at each other, or simply walking away in opposite directions in stony silence. What was especially sad to the young man, though, was the younger passengers in the back seat. While the front seat occupants climbed out of the car and walked away, the back seat passengers stayed in the car, with no way out; their world limited by no fault of their own, destined to deal with the consequences of a dead car. As he watched these events unfold, the young man would stare at the front seat passengers with judgment and disgust clearly written on his face. He would also shake his head sadly as he watched the back seat passengers stare through the windows at the other cars which passed them by. Cars that looked to be old, and in need of a paint job, but rolling away the miles with engines running faithfully, and the occupants in sync with one another due to ongoing maintenance both in and on the vehicle.
Eventually, the young man came upon a sign along the roadside, raised above the traffic. He read it with much curiosity:
Middle Earth University: Your First Step Towards Grandfather’s House.
Smiling, the young man turned in the direction given by the sign, and walked until he found several buildings nestled together on the top of a small hill, which seemed to be carved out of the numerous cornfields which surrounded it. Walking to the first building, he strode purposefully through the door and found an information desk. After a short conversation, the person at the desk directed him to the Admissions department. The young man walked down a short hallway to a door with a simple sign on the wall next to it declaring the space behind to be “Admissions”. He opened the door and walked in. The “Admissions Department” consisted of an open area of about 15 feet square with 3 doors along one wall which opened to the space, and a desk situated in the center of the space, behind which sat a middle-aged woman who was currently absorbed with the task of putting stamps on a large stack of letters. Upon hearing the door open and the young man enter, her head raised from the task, and she asked pleasantly, “Hi. How can we help you?”
The young man smiled and said, “I would like some information about the school, and about how to get to the road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house.”
Upon hearing the request, the woman’s smile stiffened just a bit, and she said, “Certainly…let me see if one of the Admissions’ counselors has time to meet with you.” She then picked up her phone, dialed three numbers, and once the phone was picked up in one of the offices, said, “Would you have time to meet with a perspective student?”
The answer must have been “yes”, because the woman hung up the phone and said, “Nathan will be with you in just a moment.”
The young man removed his backpack, and sat down in a straight-back chair set against a wall alongside a small row of other similar chairs. Since the other chairs were empty, he sat his backpack in the chair next to him, and looked around the room searching for something to read. Before he could find something, Nathan opened the door of his office and walked forward with an extended hand.
“Hi. I am Nathan, and you are….?”
The young man rose while stating his name and grasped Nathan’s hand. The young man was a little surprised by Nathan’s appearance. Nathan was dressed in crisply pressed khaki pants, a light blue, button-down oxford shirt which over-laid a pink polo shirt with popped collar. The hand shake was also a surprise. It was weak!
The young man followed Nathan into his office where information was swapped and all necessary arrangements for the young man to become a student at Middle-Earth were completed. As he arose to leave the office, the young man reached for his backpack, and Nathan said, “Now…about the backpack…. Why don’t you let me take that for you? We have everything you need here at Middle-Earth. You won’t need the pack. I will save it for you, until you finish your studies here, and if you decide you need it when you leave, I will return it.”
“Thank you, but I will keep it with me.” The young man responded.
“I suspect you will find that many of our students and faculty will find it strange that you are still carrying it. You might feel awkward.” Nathan countered.
The young man responded with a frown strangely combined with a slight smile, and said, “I have been called strange before…I will hold on to it. Thank you for your consideration.”
The young man spent several years at Middle-Earth. During that time, he noticed that although Grandfather was mentioned frequently, Grandmother was seldom acknowledged, and when she was, it seemed to be as an afterthought which was given space, but not seriously respected. Further, he noticed that although the faculty seemed to speak about the search for the Road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house, few students seemed to actually be occupied by the search. The ones that did search, seemed to walk lock-step in one particular Way. Intermittently in his classes, he heard professors whisper of The Wilderness Road, but more in an historical sense rather than an ongoing option. What he noticed predominantly was how often the students would pair up to purchase cars together, and then begin to drive along the Way most of their contemporaries were driving. The young man was deeply affected by this final observation.
“That must be the way to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house. You must do it with another person.” He thought.
So he searched for another person with which to travel. Eventually, he found a woman who seemed to be interested in the same journey. Although their former paths, and understanding of the Way forward were very different, he eventually asked if she would like to purchase a car together. She said “yes” and they signed the purchase agreement together. The young man removed his backpack, and placed it in the trunk for storage.
From the beginning, it was apparent that they both wanted to drive, and had different perspectives about which road they should travel. Since neither had an overbearing perspective about how they should proceed, and in which direction they should drive; they basically followed the flow of traffic. Fairly quickly, they added a boy passenger and later, a girl.
They followed traffic with a few deviations from time to time, and seldom stopped to do maintenance on their car. Surprisingly, the car continued to run, although the fuel economy got progressively worse as the years progressed, so the fuel they added from time to time didn’t go as far. The engine eventually began to run rough, especially when they each began to individually pursue directions when behind the wheel that the other reluctantly agreed to.
Finally, the motor of their car gave out. However, rather than immediately getting out of the car, they stayed in it for quite awhile, until the woman opened her door and stepped out. Eventually, the man…not young anymore…also opened his door and stepped out. Looking around, he realized just how lost he was. The landscape was barren, and unrecognizable to him. As he looked around, he heard another door of the car open. Turning, he noticed the boy, now a young man, get out of the car and begin to walk away from both the man, and woman for a time. A short time later, the girl, also now a young woman; opened a car door and in some way positioned herself between the man and woman.
the older man walked to the trunk of the car, unlocked it, removed his backpack, and shrugged it onto his back. With a great sense of personal failure, a fair bit of hidden, growing anger towards the woman, and feelings of confusion for the young man and young woman; the man reluctantly turned away from the car and began to walk through a strange land in search for the road…
…to his children…
…to his parents…
…to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s House…
…along the Wilderness Road…..