50 by 50. It is a completely made up idea that has driven my life for the last decade. My dearest sister moved from Texas to Michigan due to a job change. I was devastated by the move, and so were our children who loved to play with each other. The bond that sisters share is much like the bond cousins share. Life wasn’t the same living apart. The remedy was packing up the Suburban and hitting the road. Flying wasn’t an option when five of my six children were in car seats. Thus, the road tripping began, and 50 states by the time I was 50 was conceived and then evolved into the adventures we anticipate during summer break.
The planner in me sets out each summer to design the next adventure. I research the entire path, not just the destination. I don’t want to miss anything along the way. Some people call them fly-over states. Some people think it is a waste of time to take Route 66 when there is an interstate, but I want to see the hidden gems scattered throughout the country. I agree no one in their right mind would drive days to see corn fields waving in the wind, red dirt mesas without a building in sight, round hay bales nestled systematically in a field scattered with huge oak trees, or a remote mom and pop eatery with the best bbq anyone ever tasted. Yet there is great beauty and comfort in experiencing those small things as we make our way to the next stop. Life gives us little bursts of joy if we turn our heads and look. My children have learned to embrace the nuances of extended road travel, and now they are the ones pointing out small beauties along the way.
This year we had the opportunity to visit three basilicas within the span of one week in Savannah, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville. The high altars, stained glass windows, ornate organs, statues and paintings were spiritually edifying. Great dedication and perseverance went into constructing such holy places. Skilled hands labored with love for their craft to build a house of God. Fires and other natural disasters plagued these structures, yet the faithful people rallied to rebuild. Standing before the artistic and spiritual majesty, one can only ponder the resilience our ancestors had during times of strife. It was timely and inspiring for us. As Catholics, we benefited from the universality of our faith. We felt welcome and at home thousands of miles away. We experienced the gifts of the sacraments and the support of a community woven together by a shared love for Christ. I imagine all the people of centuries past who sat or knelt in that very space and sent up their supplications just as we did. How many holy souls were inspired and renewed by the sacrifice of the Mass, reconciliation, wedding ceremonies, and requiem Masses in that sacred space? Sometimes you can feel the history still alive within the walls. Travelling affords us that experience for which I am grateful.