Yesterday morning, going downstairs for breakfast, I got a wonderful surprise. Don and Carol handed me a t-shirt that I'd left in Chattanooga and I had no idea how they ended up with it, and then my mom stepped out from around the corner.
My parents had discussed, quite a while ago, that they might come out for the end of the walk, and then we hadn't said anything else about it in a long time. But behind the scenes and away from my knowledge some phone calls were being made.
So when I walked the final mile, yesterday, I wasn't alone. My mom and I walked down through the oceanfront cottages, up the planked beach walk and onto the little stretch of dunes.
The ocean greeted me, welcomed me in and I walked in a daze out in the surf. Stood for a long time and stared out into the infinite. How strange that it felt so familiar. Like a pen pal, perhaps, who I'd written letters to for years and finally got to meet. And the other ocean was in my mind, also. The two of them seemed to exist, briefly, as one, and all of the miles in between seemed to disappear, and it was like I was standing in Washington, again, staring the other way.
I didn't have to camp in the dunes, at this ocean. Or didn't get to - I'm not sure which. And I wasn't alone, this time. But for a few seconds, with the water around my ankles and the sand shifting under my feet, the camera flashes and the small procession behind me evaporated, and I was, again, just an ordinary kid, trying to picture infinity and feeling small in the failure, a single pebble at the edge of eternity.
Holy cow. I'm done. Hallelujah. Ring the bells and sing a sing-song. Sing a sing-song all day long and show me them pearly whites. Optimism won, folks. Put up some points for hope.
Is it bittersweet? I don't know, yet. I don't think so, just sweet. But the transition probably won't be easy, getting back home. My dad called this morning and reported that there are nine inches of snow on the ground, at home. And it sounded wonderful, if a little odd.
Will I miss walking? Probably. Will I miss sleeping under bushes in the rain? Not a chance. Miss the people and their stories? Yep. The open sky, the white line, the pop-tart feasts, the hours of fuzzy radio, the backwoods churches? Hard to say.
Today we drove all over town for different events. We walked a little over a mile into downtown, where Soles 4 Souls was handing out shoes and we had a little awards ceremony, a final gathering. Said the goodbyes to some great people - to some great friends.
Tomorrow my mom and I are hanging around town, and Thursday we part ways again. She's flying home, and I'm getting, once again, on a train.
There is no great wisdom to be found at the end of the road. No pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. How I change when I go back isn't known. What I take away isn't marked down in a book, isn't labeled and defined.
But I know that there is no country that I would rather have traveled. No nation I'd rather have felt beneath my feet. America is my home, and the people, from Washington to Colorado to Florida, are my brothers and my sisters, and this story isn't just about me. It's a story about us. About who we are and what we stand for. About the country we love. And if you shared your home with me, shared your stories with me, and poured some of your cup into mine, then this story is yours, too.
But we have to take care of each other. Have to remember, sometimes, that the boat is bigger than the street we live on. And if there's anything that comes from what I've done, I hope that it's a willingness to reach out, for someone to open themselves up and take a stranger's hand, to look at the world with a little more faith in fellow man. People are good. Believe in that.
You'll hear from me once more, I think, when I'm home. I'll try to tie up some loose ends.