Day 25 – Inspiring Encounters

We moved away from Dayton and the history of aviation to travel South and West toward Louisville. But the day started by sitting in the breakfast buffet next to a couple of “Loomers.” They were waxing eloquent about all the presidential sites they had visited in their travels, each trying to “one up” the other. When we over heard the story about the locked fence around Lyndon Johnson’s grave site and how some Park Ranger had given this man private access so he could take all the pictures he wanted, I knew we were in the presence of a true “Loomer.” (The definition of “Loomers” came out of a dream my driver had the other day after a long day on the road. The people in his dream were called “People of the Loom,” “which means people who make too much of themselves, as in they “weave” stories which make them seem more important than they really are.”)

I knew for a fact this man was “weaving” a story because we have been to Lyndon Johnson’s grave site and there is nothing that obstructs pictures in any way! The result of our hearing all this banter was to wonder what WE look and sound like in the breakfast room in the morning. It inspired us to a higher level of tolerance and consideration.

Shortly after getting on the road I was reflecting how much I enjoyed going through Ohio on this trip. I had never really spent any time in this state or knew anything specific about the places or people who settled here. What I observed this trip is there is a lot of diversity in Ohio. We passed a Sikh Community Center; a couple of mosques; an Indian family operated the motel where we stayed; we passed St. Rita’s School for the Deaf – a very large institution; the National Museum of the Air Force had – I’m going to say hundreds, although it probably wasn’t THAT many – motorized carts for the elderly to enjoy the museum; as well as the requisite Baptist, Catholic, and churches of other traditions; with a good number of WalMarts and Dollar Generals as well. In other words, Ohio seems to be the middle of the melting pot of our country and it was inspiring and comforting.

The heart of the city of Cincinnati boasts the birth place of William Howard Taft. I knew little of this man, but I left the home where he was born inspired by his intelligence, demeanor, ability, accomplishments and the positive effect he had on our country. He was not only the President, but also became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court AFTER he was President. Inscribed in the lobby of the visitor center is one of his quotes. I had to write it down so I could reflect on it and share it.

“Individual liberty cannot exist unless it is modified by respect for the rights of others, and all obey the law.” William Howard Taft, 1916

These few words, spoken 101 years ago deserve some reflection for our day. I was inspired by Taft’s thoughtful level-headedness.

When we crossed the Ohio River we found ourselves in Kentucky and the landscape changed from rolling hills to distinctive hills and valleys covered fully with lush vegetation, both deciduous and coniferous. Leaves were just beginning to turn. The landscape changed so often it made it difficult for me to snap a picture. (I do have a terrible habit of taking pictures out of the window of the car while traveling at 65 mph.)

Driving on, we made our way into the city of Louisville and parked along what used to be Walnut St. I wanted to stand at the intersection of 4th and Walnut where Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton, stood in March of 1958 when he had a spiritual experience. The city was alive and bustling – nothing stopping for me – or anyone else. Trucks whizzed by; walkers ambled; workers scurried; shoppers moved with determination. It was a city intersection like any other in thousands of cities around the world. And, here – at this place – Thomas Merton had a mystical experience. I never expected to have a similar experience there, I only wanted to stand in the same place. To be where he was. To allow myself to be inspired to be open to the movement of God even in the most ordinary of places. Filled with noise; traffic and people moving in every direction. It was inspiring. I felt similar to what I have felt when finding some of my ancestors in the cemeteries we’ve walked. Then I realized, Thomas Merton is kind of like my spiritual ancestor. I have learned so much from his thoughts and writings.

Leaving the city center before Friday afternoon traffic, we made our way to a Starbucks where I had arranged to meet one of my first cousins I had not seen since 1977. We talked on the phone last night and both agreed that we would recognize each other from our common family resemblance. I got out of the car and saw her waving at me! We got closer and hugged as she said, “Oh my, how you look like your mother!” We laughed because I had told her last night when we talked on the phone that she sounded just like her mother.

We had a wonderful reunion and shared pictures of our children and began to catch up on the 40 years that have transpired. We vowed to stay in contact and we parted with hugs and more laughter. It was refreshing and inspiring to know that we could reunite after 40 years and not feel like any time had passed at all.

My cousin left to go home to her family and my driver and I needed to find nourishment. We walked the small business park/shopping area and settled on a little Mediterranean restaurant. It was delightfully fresh and refreshing. As I was sitting in the booth enjoying my dinner, I noticed there were words on the window of Zoe’s Mediterranean Shop. It read “Be in love with your life – every minute of it.” I was moved and inspired. What a motto to live by. We are enjoying every minute of this life! Every minute of this trip.

To top off our dinner we shared a lemon cookie. I’m here to tell you – it was the BEST lemon cookie I’ve ever eaten. (And, I’ve eaten my share, believe me!) We had to go back after we finished dinner and buy another cookie for an evening snack.

We took an after dinner walk around the shopping park to wait for the last of Friday evening traffic to lighten before we got back in the car for our final 45 minutes of the day.

The day was inspiring on so many levels. We learned new facts about our 27th President; stood on 4th and Walnut in Louisville along with the spirit of Thomas Merton; and reunited a relationship that had drifted apart because of time and distance. All of this is what grace is made of.