Destination day dawned clear and bright. I awoke with a mix of glad anticipation to finally arrive in the Keys and a sense of loss that my journey south was coming to a close. If you’re tempted to feel sorry for me, don’t. I have five days in Islamorada to look forward to, and another five to drive back to Virginia. Yet there remains an inescapable sense of losing something I can never quite get back. These last days had been so full. Full of wonder, joy, discovery, miles traveled, new thoughts and ideas, peace. I was a little bit afraid to stop and risk breaking the spell.
But day dreams of wide aquamarine waters of the Gulf and the Atlantic overruled my doubt. And truth be told, I admit to beginning to feel a little trapped by central Florida. I think it was knowing that I was flanked by far-off balmy beaches running up and down to both my right and left, though the only things in sight were massive black thunderclouds dead ahead, and a 360-degree panorama of citrus trees.
In fact, in those next few hours, I drove by every single grove of orange and grapefruit trees in all of Florida. Orchards themselves were nothing new to me. I grew up in a land of sweet and sour cherries, peach, pear, every variety of apple imaginable. The mountainsides above our valley were dotted with fruit farms owned by neighbors and friends, and we all picked our share as teenagers. But these endless green groves rushed silently past my windows for miles as I headed further and further into the darkness of the impending storm. Dozens and dozens and even a hundred miles. Tropicana, Florida’s Natural, Minute Maid. This was big business.
Somehow in the midst of now pelting rain and wind, I was lulled into a reverie as my mind wandered back over the miles. The word contentment kept replaying over and over. There was a peace that had come with this journey, and it was a somewhat unexpected revelation. And oddly there was another word that kept creeping in, but more like a memory: fear.
Contentment vs. Fear. Not typical antonyms, but yet they are. Enemies, in a way. Thinking on this, I recognized that to be content requires the absence of fear. I consider that you cannot have both at once. This moment in the storm was an example of exactly that. I couldn’t see 5 feet in front of me, yet there was no fear. The road was predictably and comfortingly straight for 50 more miles at least; I knew where I was going even though I’d never traveled this way before. The storm would not dissuade me from my “okay-ness”. No room for fear here.
We all have songs that speak to us in different seasons of our lives. Currently, Zach Williams’ song, Fear, He is a Liar won’t leave my brain. Its truths are tangible. From the time I was a little girl, FEAR was my demon. Of course everyone is scared sometimes. We know it’s healthy and normal. It keeps us from burning our fingers on a hot stove or stepping too close to the edge of a cliff. But a healthy fear of something is different than a controlling one. And while as a child I had no reason to be controlled by fear, I was always afraid something bad would happen.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, and of power, and of strong mind.” (2 Tim 1:7) Life-changing words for me. God did not give us fear. Fear didn’t come from Him. This verse is rich for me. And now this song. The refrain is a powerful adaptation of that verse in a way.
“Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear he is a liar”
A liar. Fear takes, stops, robs, steals. Gratefully, I realized these days on the road had allowed me to trade in the adult version of all that for it’s sweet counterpart – contentment.
More verses in my head: “Be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. (Hebrews 13:5) And “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation . . . I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:11,13)
Peace, rest, deep breaths, contentment. Slowing down, appreciating the small stuff, the simple things, being certain of what I cannot see. Yes, this is where I was headed all along. And here I found it, in the eye of a black cloud, water gushing down the road in a nameless, faceless place. It was perfect. To be honest I quickly realized I was much like Dorothy and her friends (minus the tornado part, thankfully!), on the hunt for something they imagined they were doomed to live without only to find they had it all along. Contentment had never left me. It was always there, but I had traded it in for fear, and noise. Now the lure and the peace of the road restored it to me.
The rains let up (though they would come and go several more rounds before I arrived), sunshine shimmered through the clouds and I opened the sun roof to let the rays soak in and take in deep, fresh breaths of clean air (I’d be lying if I said “orange-scented air”, but that would have been cool!).
I happily drove on, reminiscing on all the little things that paved the path these last five days. Here are a few random discoveries from my collection of experiences thus far:
- Old hotels are the best hotels.
- Small-town people are almost always friendly.
- There isn’t a town or village in the south without a clapboard Baptist church and a Dollar Store. (Is there a connection between the two? A question for another time.)
- There are an insane number of small never-heard-of-them-before college campuses between Virginia and Florida.
- Signs that say “Bear Country” are actual serious. Not just a fun photo op.
- Bees are beautiful.
- It’s possible to build a fire out of totally wet wood if you’re very patient (+ firestarterJ).
- I love fog.
- Theoretically, you can easily run out of gas on either Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway if you’re not careful.
- Waking up on a mattress in the back of your car on the top of a mountain is exciting.
- RV parks are almost as common as Walmarts in these parts.
- Just as interesting is that you can spend the night in your RV in a Walmart parking lot and they’re cool with it.
- Greenville, SC is a “do-over” (= two thumbs up).
- It’s possible to buy “New York Fried Chicken” at a middle-of-nowhere gas station in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
- You’re never too far from a Starbucks if you really need it.
To sum up, I realize I cleared the fog and relearned some big important stuff that’s really pretty simple. I’ve also learned lots of seemingly trivial things have made the trip that much more memorable.
My last important lesson of the day was a geographic one, however. If you drive far enough into the heart (or bowels, I’m not sure which seemed more accurate) of Florida, you eventually have to head east to the Ocean or west to the Gulf. Continuing southward would simply make me part of the food chain in the Everglades. It was a little like playing chicken – you eventually gotta choose a side or risk dismemberment. So, I stared down the swamp until the road gave me no choice, then promptly veered left and skirted Lake Okeechobee on my way to the coast, Miami and beyond.
If I stepped on it (and route 95 wasn’t a parking lot), I’d be hanging loose in the Keys by mid-afternoon. These next five days will be just fine after all.