The Continental Divide - My Family Travels

            It is one thing to realize who you are while sitting in your kitchen with a half-eaten bagel grasped loosely in one hand and the sports section of the newspaper in the other.  It’s quite another to realize who you are while standing in the place where the continent is divided in half, breathing in air that is much too thin and staring at a sky that is filled with blinding light as the sun rises.  It is where everything comes together: the rivers, the mountains, the country itself.  And for me, it’s where I came together as a person.

            Three years ago, my family and I embarked on a road trip across the western side of the United States.  The trip lasted for two weeks.  It consisted mostly of visiting national parks and monuments whenever we came across them.  There was no set schedule, no planned stops.  We found a hotel room at whatever city or town we stopped in that night; if there wasn’t a room available, we would keep driving.  Every day was an adventure.  We never knew what astonishing sights we would come across or unforeseen mishaps we would encounter.  Not a single day was like any of the others, save for the ones we spent driving to the next attraction.

            Of course, this type of vacation is always a set-up for disaster.  On days where there was nothing to amuse us, we often got on each other’s cases for no reason aside from the fact that it provided some sort of distraction.  We argued, we fought.  I found myself feeling more homesick with each day that passed, and I spent more than a few nights crying because of it.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted my own bed.  But more than that, I wanted familiarity.  The West was a strange place to me; I had never seen anything like it before, and in some way, it was frightening after the initial wonder wore off.

            But there were moments when it was all worth it.  All of the strain between my family, the longing to be home, the monotony of driving in a cramped car when the only radio station to be found played nothing but John Denver – all of the stress would melt away in the face of beauty.  We came across a rare herd of wild horses in the middle of the Rocky Mountain National Park.  At Yellowstone, we followed a young buffalo as it trotted along the side of the road, heading back towards the hill where its mother waited.  And the one memory that will never leave me: standing in the center of a valley, surrounded on all sides by towering mountains, hearing a river rushing somewhere near me but completely hidden by the tall grass.  It wasn’t silent, but the sounds were peaceful, tranquil, and more soothing than any silence could have been.

            I realized many things about myself on that trip.  Most obvious was the lesson that I’m not a person who enjoys being away from home for long periods of time.  However, I learned more than that: I discovered that I am a person who finds beauty in the mundane.  The smallest thing can become a spiritual experience for me, whether I try to make it one or not.  And this came to me as I was standing in the place that divides the continent in two, staring out at a sight that other cars hurtled by without a second glance, never knowing what they were missing.

To me, it was beautiful.  I had found myself.

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