Some years ago I was sitting in a church and during the service a friend of mine, Adam, stood up to read a passage from the Gospel of Luke, in which John the Baptist begins his work preaching and baptizing in the Jordan Valley. There is a quote in the passage that goes like this:
Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.
I had heard this passage many times, but not quite like I was hearing it now. And the reason was simple: Adam had once thrown a backpack on his shoulders and walked 2,175 miles from Georgia to Maine on the curviest, most up-and-down path you can take in the United States. That is, he had walked the Appalachian Trail (along with his wife).
The man speaking, then, was intimately familiar with a path that was anything but straight. The Appalachian Trail was not designed to be a direct walk between Georgia and Maine; it follows the ridgeline, and it takes you up and down just like a rollercoaster at Six Flags. Adam knew the weariness of crooked paths and up-and-down walking.
Adam’s journey had given him a certain kind of experience, which in turn gave new weight to certain things he might say. And this is one of the benefits of long-term travel: it can take us to places — geographical, social, emotional — so that when we return home we might carry back more than, say, a Bintang t-shirt or Eiffel Tower refrigerator magnet. We can also carry back something much more important: a life lived, and the subtle ways this gives weight to our words.