The year my great-grandfather was born, there were 38 states in the U.S. The year of my birth there were 48. When our daughters were born, there were 50. If you want to visit all the states, its getting more complicated. I'm just now getting around to my 50th.
My parents got me to 17 before I left for college. Going to seminary in the east gained me another 13 (partly due to trips and visits with classmates.) And I've been picking away at the other 20 ever since. My 49th state was five years ago: an Alaska camping trip. And now, thanks to a generous farewell gift from the folks in Urbana last summer, Jie and I will fly to Hawaii tomorrow. Hawaii was the 50th state to enter the union; it will likewise be my 50th to enter.
The states have fascinated me ever since my grandparents started bringing me road maps, back when I was in third grade. When I was ten and the TV announcer declared that President Lyndon Johnson was going to give his "State of the Union" address, I actually sat down to watch it, hoping that he would announce that "Illinois" was the 1965 "state of the union." I was quickly bored when he failed to mention any of the specific states.
President Johnson evidently had a different interpretation of the constitution than I did. Section II of said document says: the president "
shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union."
Now that I'm a grown-up, I can understand that the president is to give his or her opinion about how everything is going. This, of course, results in speeches that are long and boring and self-serving! If I ever get to be president I think I'll go back to my 1965 interpretation and just announce which state is the winner that year. Probably more people will watch. And as president, I will of course be able to change the rules and meanings of anything anytime I want...which I think is somewhere in section XII of the constitution.
States have been so important to me that I decided to take my daughters to all of them. Our main obstacle to this goal was that we were usually broke back in those years. That problem was solved by lowering my goal to the 48 contiguous states. Sorry Alaska and Hawaii. Sorry Mindy and Alison.
We achieved that goal by the time the girls were 16 and 14. The quest went fairly well, the foundation of our success being four journeys to the four corners of the country. When you start from Illinois, a trip to Florida sends you through 5 states, trips to California and Washington state will net you 10 states each, and a trek to Maine will give you another 10. Some states gave us a little trouble: North Dakota isn't on the way to anywhere; neither is South Carolina (if you are starting in Illinois.) So we had to go out of our way to catch those two. The last three states to check off our list were Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. When you take vacations in August, you kind of procrastinate on those three destinations. But we sweated profusely and got them all in.
Now that the kids have their 48 and I'll be getting my 50th, there is one asterisk in the whole enterprise: Rhode Island. They slept all the way through our smallest state and never saw it at all. The opposite is true for me: Rhode Island now remains the onlystate I've never slept in. So don't be surprised: if I suddenly find myself with an extra four or five days to kill, I'll probably sally off to Rhode Island and spend the night.
Goals are good. And it's feeling bittersweet to me to be finally achieving this lifelong goal. But other dreams and now coming to the top of my bucket list. The trans-Canada highway awaits, (ever since I was ten and got a map of Canada in the mail from a newspaper coupon.) I plan to drive all the way across, from east to west, hitting all the provinces, taking along my grandson along if his mom and dad will let him go. And then there are still a couple continents I've really want to visit: Africa and Antarctica. And there are some national parks I haven't gotten to yet...and some presidential museums...and some minor and major league baseball parks.
John Wesley (inspiration for the Methodist church) said that the world was his parish. He never traveled as many places as me, but his writings and his followers and his organization made it throughout the world. If I think in those terms, I find myself humbled by our spiritual forbearer.
I do not have Mr. Wesley's ambition to be so historically and geographically significant. But it is a reward to be a pastor in that spirit. These Sunday letters (via the internet) have made it to people in six continents (all but Antarctica) and 20 different states. The Sunday sermons from the Mattoon pulpit are heard (on the church's internet site) far away as China. I relish living in such a country and world: so delightful, so many friends, so many friendly strangers, so many stories, so many thanksgivings, so much hospitality.
There'll be no Sunday letter next week, I'll be somewhere atop a volcano in the Pacific Ocean. But I'm looking forward to passing on new stories and blessings when I return. --Mike