blue sky, rainbow, road

An indescribably beautiful country lay before him.

A 5,000-mile lesson in life

It’s been six weeks since I returned from my 5,000-mile cross-country road trip living out of an old VW van and playing live music at rest stops, parking lots and campgrounds. My plan was to spread as much joy and positivity as I could to help lift people’s spirits and to offset some of the growing tensions our Country had been experiencing. When I left the friary where I live on Friday, Nov. 13, the latest pandemic “surge” had yet to arrive and it seemed there was a light to be seen at the end of this dark tunnel. I was ready for this adventure!

Br. Al Mascia, OFM

When I returned home on Dec. 8, I did so having to quarantine for 10 days due to the surging of the pandemic and the fact that I had traveled through many “hotbed” states as this was happening. I took this time to reflect on the road trip and even wrote an article for News Notes sharing three of the many takeaways from it. I was given the opportunity to share even more of them in this current issue. But that was before Jan. 6 when, like for so many of us, my thoughts took a sharp turn. Suddenly all of the other takeaways felt somewhat negligible when compared to everything else going on in our Nation. That is, except for this one.

The most important takeaway:

This road trip was the very first time I had ever traveled so extensively throughout our Country. Mostly familiar with the Northeast and Midwest—though I did live in Houston for a while—I was given the opportunity to experience firsthand so much more of its awesome diversity, grandeur and beauty, its landscapes, nature, cultures and population. I met a native American War Chief at the Ysleta del Sur pueblo in El Paso, the kindest Uber driver in the world who helped me navigate my way around Amarillo, at no extra charge, when the van broke down, a number of frontline workers at truck stops, 24-hour diners and campsites who all helped me feel at home no matter where I was at the time, and even an old cowboy playing a guitar in the moonlight as I was drifting off to sleep.

Saguaro cactus

The giant Saguaro cactus helped put things in perspective.

The terrain I traveled through was as diverse and beautiful as the people I encountered while doing so, and humbled me just as much. Standing in front of a giant Saguaro cactus both made me feel smaller and yet, at the same time, connected to something greater. Likewise, when a hairpin turn on a mountain top road revealed the immensity of the Salt River Canyon and took my breath away!

And so, of all my many road trip takeaways, I believe this one is by far the most important. That our Country is indescribably beautiful in its diversity and manifoldness. That somehow mountains, deserts, canyons as well as cities and even one-stoplight towns combine to create one home for one people. And that this overwhelming beauty is what can help heal and unite us, notwithstanding all of our accidental and even philosophical differences. Beauty has a way of doing that!

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once said that “beauty will heal the world”. By that same token, beauty can heal and unite our Country as well. Clearly, we are so blessed as to be surrounded by it in so many ways. This takeaway is just a gentle reminder of that.

Part 1: Taking his show on the road

Watch the videos at Br. Al’s Journey.

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