The highway stretches before us like a black river, white lines dashing beside the tires like dolphins by a ship. The guys are in my car: Dimitrios, ever the scholar-politician, checking his email on a smartphone; and Zach, tall and lean and his hair a barely-tamed mop, coaxing rock music from the speakers. The girls are in the car ahead of us: Nicole, our hostess, passionate and responsible; Jess, the group’s sassy yet thoughtful “mother”; and Kia, a straight-shooter unafraid to cut to the heart of the matter. They maintain a steady speed of eighty miles per hour, but I can barely keep up and they tease “Grandpa” to drive faster. The sky is overcast and the rain comes and goes as the urban landscape gradually gives way to wilderness. The mountains rise up with wisps of cloud between peaks, ghosts drifting among the silent giants.
After we arrive at the house, we go about preparing dinner and it is relaxed and almost domestic, functioning like a true family though some of us have known each other only a handful of months. Afterward, we retreat to the basement with some drinks and play card games, joking and laughing as only young people can. As time passes, the cards are left forgotten and stories start to break the surface of our conversations. Nicole suggests that we play “If You Really Knew Me” and I eagerly support the motion. Soon, we are sitting in the living room, curled up on couches in the half-light. Our attentions are fleeting, yet it still feels like solace. For a time, we are both within and without the world, occupying a time and space divorced from the darkness, a harbor where truth and understanding dance in the silence. It is not long before sleep pushes us into our beds and we fall into dreams knowing that here we are safe.
The next morning, we cram into one car and head off for a hiking trail. The air is cool but humid, clinging to our skin as we navigate through mud and roots and rock formations. Though the river has overrun the path across, we trudge on anyway, ice water assaulting us with its power. Yet we emerge soaked and victorious on the other side and we spend a few more moments drinking in the splendor of nature wrapped around us.
After a quick pit-stop to change our clothes, we grab a quick lunch at a café and continue toward our next destination. We pull off onto a dirt road and climb down to the river where we dip into its frigid embrace before quickly jumping back out. Dimitrios is brave enough (or crazy enough) to use the rope swing overhanging the pool and he comes out smiling and energized like one newly-baptized.
On the drive back, we turn up “Thrift Shop” till it’s pulsing through the car and some of us sing along, smiling at Jess as she sighs and shakes her head. It is a bright and carefree snapshot, but I know two of us must return home tonight and I try not to realize how soon that will come.
In town, we visit this old-time convenience store and it feels like a museum, examining glass Coke bottles and bizarre treats and other relics. We share a last supper together, reminiscing about past stories and plans for the approaching summer. We embrace each other in the light of the falling sun and we part ways. The wild road seems to run on endlessly as twilight fades into night, the crescent moon rising and the stars slipping into view. A few hours pass and we are back in our hometown, my companion carrying her bags into the garage as I depart for the comfort of my own bed.
My mind runs over many things. I think of this “infinite feeling” and how these moments are not yet old photographs: they are scenes in a story still being written. I also recall lyrics from The Wonder Years: “I’m not even sad anymore, I’m just so tired most nights.”
Tonight, I am tired. But not the kind of tired that happens after a long day and you are crushed by the knowledge that tomorrow will be just as mechanical and hollow. It is the good kind of tired, the kind that occurs when you decide to do more than merely exist, when you’ve spent every possible moment with people that you love, when you have found God in the simplest and seemingly most ordinary happenings.
Donald Miller says this: “When we look back on our lives, what we will remember are the crazy things we did, the times we worked harder to make a day stand out.”
The sadness will always be back to haunt me and my echoing footsteps, but right now, it is not here. Tonight, I am tired and I am content. I am clear-eyed enough to know I am blessed and my story weaves into the stories of others around me and what a beautiful pattern that is. I am content in knowing that I am surrounded by love, even in the midst of chaos, and that these people help me to find the meaning lining the everyday events of my life.
We are all living a story. And even though my bright eyes might dim from darker skies, I will live this story in love and hope and make my breaths count for more than just myself.