My favorite subject in school was always Field Trip 101. Even in the days when field trips were a walk to fire station watching the firemen roll up hoses, I was there. Fugitives from the academic, we knew we hit pay dirt, if our trip involved a school bus -even if it was a trip to a dusty old museum.
As school begins each year, I know that my children also look forward to trips. With four kids – each in a different level of schools – I knew this would be the year when my wallet would become a drive-through. Nevertheless, nothing prepared me for the news I received from these schools.
My fifth grade daughter brought home what seemed to be the usual museum permission slip. The problem was that this trip was not going to be in a school bus, unless it was Ms. Frizzle Magic School Bus. It was a weeklong, cross-country, $1300 field trip during spring break to the museums of Washington DC.
Not to be excluded, my son’s Jr. High also wants to go to Washington DC during spring break, but they want to do so on their way through New York City .
As for my High School daughter, New York is where her German class wants to change planes on their way to Germany!
This meant that unless state lottery money had actually started going to the schools, I was doomed to sell M&Ms at work. And, in a hospital, harassing heart patients and diabetics to buy candy can be a problem. Field trips can be expensive.
I knew a man in a church I pastored who had saved all his life in hopes of taking the field trip of his dreams. He and his wife planned to cross the nation in a motor home and see everything they had never seen. Upon his retirement, they proudly displayed their motor home to friends boasting that it would be “home” for the next six months.
Hoping this trip would finally compensate him for all the grief life had thrown upon him, he explained to us all that the motor home life would be his new definition of “living.”
A few weeks after he left, I got a late night phone call from a trembling, frightened voice. “Pastor, it was terrible. She stepped out and she’s gone.”
“What? Who? How do you mean?” I asked groggily.
“My wife,” he said. “We were driving down the interstate in Ohio doing sixty-five miles an hour when we began to argue about something silly. She told me she wanted to go home.”
“Home?” I asked.
“Yeah, home. I thought she was just tired of traveling and wanted me to turn the motor home around and go home.”
“That’s not what she meant?” I asked groping for understanding.
“I’ll never really know exactly what she meant,” he said sorrowfully, “but I told her that if she really wanted to go home, then she should just go.”
At that point, she announced with matter of fact, “Fine. I’m going home” and she opened the door and slid herself onto the moving pavement.
A post mortem would later reveal that the brain tumors had long ago caused this woman’s thinking to go awry and her life really ended before she knew it. They had waited all their lives to celebrate life and seize their day and now it was simply gone.
Christian scripture tells us that Jesus died on a cross between two revolutionaries. While one of the men ridiculed Jesus, the other hinted that he had a life-long desire to find a truer path for his life than he had found. In his last few life breaths, Jesus granted him a place in a future paradise.
Talk about “networking.” This guy was finally in the right place at the right time. Nevertheless, he lived his life with the tragedy of the “always.” Had he spent his life “always wondering” spiritual things? If so, he started his spiritual field trip a little late and never really enjoyed the journey.
Spiritual field trips are almost always expensive, but the cost of staying at home is almost always a deflated life. It is easy to live life with the ambiguity of the “always, but there is a place where you must give your final answer and decide that it’s time to take your life out of the “always wanted” category into the “becoming” category.
For me, it’s been like this. For years, returning to hospital chaplaincy and writing had been in the “always wanted” column. Last year, though fate and faith, I found that I had a choice and it became time to make my field trip. In this case it was two trips – the first to California to interview in hospitals and a second trip to the newspaper office to pitch my idea. Those trips were expensive and terrifying at times, but so far, the journey has been worth it all.
In the meantime, my college-age daughter is thinking field trips as well. She wants to go to Europe this summer and live there for a year. She has told me over and over again, “Dad, I’ve always wanted to live abroad.” Hmm. A field trip where the school keeps my kid for a year? Now, that’s what I call a real bargain.