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Essay

In Transit

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Sarina Gruver Moore is a visiting assistant professor of English at Calvin College. She’s filling in this summer for Jennifer Holberg, who is “working hard” in Florence, Italy (read: “eating gelato”).

 

This is the way it happens.

A friend texts on a bright early-June morning. Let’s hit the beach. It’s tempting to say no, to focus on the long household-project list, the mountain of laundry in the basement, the emails awaiting replies.

But we say yes. Yes! to sunshine and water and sandy bottoms. Yes! to Michigan in all her glory!

Of course, we then spend a frustrating hour gathering beach supplies stowed away at the end of last summer. Where’s the sunscreen? Good grief, do you remember where we put all the swimsuits? And for the love, will you boys PLEASE stop bickering over that Nerf gun?

We load the car with children and sand toys and folding chairs and an enormous beach bag stuffed with towels, unread New Yorkers, a novel I can’t seem to finish, four different kinds of sunscreen, and five water bottles. Driving to the beach I realize that I’ve forgotten the bug spray, my sunglasses, and the special lip balm with sunscreen. Such minor inconveniences, but I feel annoyed. 

We park and pay the fee. We shoo the kids to and from the bathroom. Then we hike a mile through the oak and maple forest to the beach, shifting bags and chairs between the five of us until the preschooler, who has yet to master the art of walking in flip-flops, begs to be carried.

It turns out that I don’t read any of the magazines or the 826-page novel (big surprise), and it’s so hot that we barely need the towels to dry off. We don’t even sit in the chairs.

Instead we stand cooling our feet at the edge of the early-summer cold lake, the hot sun radiating down on us, baking our backs. While the children happily play all the regular beach games, we talk with our friends about the real weights in our lives—illnesses and hospitalizations, dear friends and heavy burdens, career woes and family concerns, deep hopes and deep fears. We also laugh a lot.

Predictably, the splashing of water turns to brotherly aggression and tears, and we head back to the car. Huffing and puffing back up the stairs, bags bumping against my legs, preschooler perched on my hip, I suddenly remember one of the key lessons of the beach.  

Travel light.

Jesus had some things to say about traveling. He tells his disciples, “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.” That’s according to Luke. Saint Mark remembers Jesus being a bit less strict and slightly more practical: “Look, wear sandals and take a walking stick, right? But don’t pack an extra shirt.” Matthew’s ascetic Jesus waxes political; it’s the radical economics that concern him the most: “Don’t take any gold or silver or copper with you in your fanny packs—no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.”

Maybe the details don’t matter. The gist of the message is clear enough.

As the reddening sun sinks behind us, we travel eastward, homeward. The windows rolled down, the sun roof open—testament not only to a lack of air conditioning in our twenty-year-old Volvo wagon, but also to the pleasure of driving at 70 mph with the wind whipping through sandy, sweaty hair. 

One child falls asleep, his head lolling over onto his elder brother’s shoulder. The eldest son stares out the window, thinking his own, nearly adult and mostly Other thoughts.

In that moment of quiet before we reach home and slog through the bedtime routine, I turn to my husband. His neck is a little sunburned, sunglasses hide his crow’s feet, and I notice, really notice for the first time in a long time how much grayer his hair has become in the last year.

He turns to look at me, and we grin.

Let’s remember this moment, and travel light. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

3 Comments

  • Bart says:

    This is great! The car ride was my favorite part — so many great images and feelings. There's something reflective about driving home from a long day at the beach with the windows down. People don't speak, almost as of there's an unwritten rule that the silence is for thinking.

  • Laura says:

    I loved The Luminaries, but it took me forever to get through, and I think I already have to read it again to absorb everything. Such an incredible technical achievement of a book.

  • Dave Vroege says:

    "… thinking his own, nearly adult and mostly Other thoughts": well said.

    And the last line brought tears to my eyes.

    Thank you.

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