Defining Nouns: A Road Trip in Review
Originally posted here on November 27, 2010
I’ve always been a verb person. Go, do, see, run, climb, achieve, experience – these are the words I gravitate towards. If I had to choose one part of speech to narrate my life, it would be verbs. As one definition explains, “The verb is perhaps the most important part of the sentence. A verb asserts something about the subject of the sentence and expresses actions, events, or states of being.” Clearly, this is the way to go. You really can’t argue with the most important part of the sentence.
Nouns, in my opinion, are boring by comparison. “A noun is a word used to name a person, animal, place, thing, and abstract idea. Nouns are usually the first words which small children learn.” Let’s be honest: who wants that? I’ll pass on the kid words and move right on up to adult conversation, thank you. Verbs are vibrant, nouns are dull. Verbs are productive, nouns are lazy. Verbs pack life full to the gills, nouns leave something to be desired.
When I pulled out of the driveway and headed west for mile 1 of 10,000, I knew I would come home a different person in some way or another. Increased confidence, a greater sense of independence, an ardent appreciation for locations outside of New York State. Things like that. But of all the things I thought would change I never expected it would be my stance on nouns and verbs. God punk’d me on that one. Never saw it coming. And yet, it was without a doubt the most valuable lesson I learned over the course of the 10 weeks on the road.
The noun takeover started early. And by early, I mean on the first day. I set out at 6am with unquenchable ambition and determination. Eager and fearless. I belted motivational theme songs at the top of my lungs as I traveled Interstate 90 further than I’ve ever traveled it before. I fought through traffic in Erie, fought through a newly acquired scratch-and-dent in Cleveland, fought through rest stop stalkers in Toledo, fought through divided highways in Lansing.
Thirteen hours later, I was tired of fighting.
What restored my soul at the end of the day wasn’t the fact that I survived the first day. Nor was it that I was going where I previously had not gone before or the expectation that I was about to experience 70 more days just as action-packed as the first. None of those actions made me feel any better about the new scar on the van. They made me feel accomplished, but not any less tired. The thing that mattered at the end of the day was the last place I arrived: Bethany’s apartment, the home of a person I love. What mattered most was the idea that an hour of conversation with a friend was well worth 13 hours of eventful travel.
Darn it. All nouns.
This theme was repeated over and over again. I went from dejected to uplifted in record time when in the presence of a friend as opposed to the presence of myself. What we did was never important. In Seattle, Stephanie and I sat on the floor of the library and read old issues of Food & Wine. Nancy and I ate dessert first in Portland. In Virginia, Jennie and Tom and I watched 24. In all of these situations it did not matter in the least what activity we would embark upon, even though everyone went out of their way to give me a great experience in their city. It was just enough to spend time with them.
There were the new friends I made along the way, too. Wendy and Eric in Anacortes, Rod and Jane in Colorado, Marie in Texas, Ellie in Georgia, and so many others. These are people who welcomed a stranger into their lives. They engulfed me with hospitality, warmth, and a sense of belonging at a time when I didn’t have a particular place in which to belong. They made a home for me when I didn’t have a home.
And then there were the countless Good Samaritans, the people I’d never met before who made a tangible difference in my day. The little Asian woman who told me I was strong and brave, the Texas Tech fan who walked me back to my hotel room so I could safely retrieve my bags, the empathetic woman who invited me to sit next to her at the movies.
A noun is a person.
Before leaving, I assumed I would fall in love with specific places. Example: I knew there would be no place so dear to my heart as Green Bay (and there wasn’t). The Pacific Northwest had won my affection before I’d even entered the timezone. Colorado could have called me a citizen without ever feeling my footsteps. I knew I would be enraptured by these places, and I absolutely was, but those weren’t the places I’ll remember most.
I’ll remember the coffee shop in Erie that was playing the Gators game in a back room, offering an oasis of football comfort on the first day out. And the last room in the Packers Hall of Fame, where a phenomenal staff member came to find me because she knew I was so excited to be there and was afraid that I would lose track of time and miss my tour. I’ll remember mornings on the back porch in Colorado filled with dawn’s light and crisp air, oatmeal and coffee and books. And I’ll remember the dusty ground in Utah where I watched the sun set and reflected on God’s redeeming love in the form of beautiful things.
A noun is a place.
I’ve never been a high maintenance girl. I don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy. Which is why it’s surprising that I am a chronic over-packer and usually bring everything I own everywhere I go. This posed an obvious problem for the trip since there are only so many items that can fit into a vehicle, even if that vehicle is an 8 passenger mini van. However, I think I packed pretty lightly considering I brought everything I would need to live on for nearly 3 months. This basically boiled down to clothes, food, windshield wiper solution, seasons of Friends, and an obscene amount of reading material.
It was actually nice to have everything I needed so readily available, to limit the options and cleanse the clutter. And I never missed my stuff back home (except for maybe candles, since I’m an aroma addict). In fact, the things that were most important to me on the trip did not include most of the things I actually brought with me. The things that came to mean the most were the things I received along the way: The elastic band from the ladies at the Hall of Fame, a green and gold band stamped with the words that came to be my mantra, “teamwork” and “commitment,” and has not left my ankle since. The CD’s Nancy sent me off with which contained songs that became part of my roadtrip soundtrack. The many, many business cards given to me by people who, after knowing me for 5 minutes, encouraged me to call them if I ran into any problems on the road.
A noun is a thing.
Now that I’m home, the golden question has been, “What was the best part of the trip?” It’s a good question, one I’d likely ask too. But it’s a beast to answer. Because the best part of the trip isn’t anything I can quantify. It’s not really a story or an experience I can narrate. It’s not a verb. It’s a noun.
The best part of the trip – the one that I will hold onto, the one that changed me – is an idea. It’s the idea that people are kind, generous, good. The idea that I am loved by a God who loves me regardless of my productivity, who directs my steps to lead me exactly where I need to be, who calls me to be more than I think I am. It’s the idea that dreams are doable and should be done. And most importantly, the idea that verbs make a life full, but nouns make a life rich. It’s the nouns surrounding the verbs that make the sentence meaningful.
A noun is an idea.
And now, I feel like a character in a childrens book. Like the boy in The Polar Express or the siblings in The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve had a wonderfully authentic adventure in which I crossed into a new reality, learning new truths and having my eyes opened. But when I wake up in the morning I’m back in my bed at home. None of the things surrounding me have changed even though things inside of me have changed. Make no mistake: I’m beyond elated to be home. There is no place I’d rather be. But it’s still an odd dichotomy, one I’m not yet sure how to reconcile.
But right now, as I write this, it’s starting to snow. Snow has always been my love language. Since I just graced you all with a very large explanation on my life in terms of grammar I will refrain from gracing you with a very large explanation of my life in terms of snow (you’re welcome). But basically, snow resets my internal compass. It reminds me that the God I love and serve will make all things bright and beautiful in the end. It’s a clean slate, a blanketing of provision, and my favorite sight to see. So it’s fitting that I’m seeing my first honest to goodness snow of the season as I write this post to wrap up the roadtrip season. A new layer of life is starting to fall in small flakes, building the foundation for a fresh canvas: a blank page waiting to contain all of the nouns it can hold.