It’s an expression I’ve heard more times than I can count, usually uttered over the dinner table hand-in-hand at extended family gatherings. At the farmhouse in rural Wisconsin. Or out in the garage, the men gathered in a corner slinging back Miller Lites. Or in the overfull kitchen packed shoulder to shoulder with relative strangers. The idea of traveling mercies has always felt abstract and distant, even when I struck out to live in New Mexico to make a fresh start. Or two months later when I returned from the journey alone, exhausted.
As another journey draws near with the help of the Lilly Endowment’s Teacher Creativity Grant, I’m again reminded of the idea of traveling mercies. But not in the way I thought I’d be.
It’s been ten years since my sojourn in New Mexico as a directionless college grad. Upon my return, I decided I couldn’t continue to do what I had been doing before I left. I explored possibilities I’d never thought of and wound up diving into the the teaching profession I’d turned my back on in college. The process was difficult and trying, but I came out on the other side having risen to the challenge.
As if the challenge stopped with earning my license.
I traveled a lot for work. Between being a substitute teacher and holding various long-term positions from Danville to Noblesville, I covered a lot of ground. And I met a lot of people. People not like me who were at the same time very much like me. Mostly good people — people who helped me and taught me and shared with me.
When I think of traveling mercies ten years after leaving and coming home, I think of the people along the way who have offered support — who continue to offer support. Emerson wrote that our best thoughts come from others. When I think of all the people I’ve met along my journey, I can’t help but see them inside of me — a mosaic of voices and ideas and gestures that I draw on without always thinking. Or without always thanking.
There’s a proverb about travels (that, like most proverbs, isn’t really about what it says it’s about) that goes something like, “If you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.” So when it comes to traveling mercies, I don’t worry about setting out on my own because I know that so many people will be coming with me.