Recently, my husband and I took a long road trip. More than 2,000 miles in a circuit that covered 9 states in 8 days. The main purpose was to visit my mother in North Carolina, and we added some time with other family and friends as we could. It was more fun than I anticipated – originally the idea of spending that much time in a car seemed practical, but not attractive. Once on the highway, however, the ever-changing scenery and audio entertainment made it truly enjoyable. (It turns out you can get into the World Cup even if it is streaming on your phone with only audio.) Plus the company was great and we didn’t have to fit everything into carryon luggage.
Less than 100 miles in, we passed a billboard that caught my attention. Against a black background were two neon green pulses of an EKG…then a flatline. Above and below the cardiac activity line are the words, “Are you preparing to meet Jesus?”
Well, was I? Was anyone on this highway?
We stopped for coffee and tea, then lunch, then spent the first night 10 hours away from home. The next day we stopped in my old college town, saw a friend of more than 40 years, relived some memories, and traveled on. At my mother’s house we entered the world of middle dementia – enough memory to enjoy each other, not enough to keep track of papers and time. We talked with her generation of elders and broke bread with the two generations after that at Thanksgiving dinner.
I saw old friends from high school and college years. Each is struggling and succeeding in their own ways; none of us living the lives we imagined when we were 18. Or 20. Or even 35. For good and/or ill we’ve ended up where we are, and still connected.
While on our trip, the news was filled with stories about mass shootings. Families lost loved ones, teams lost players, friends lost connection. Even as the sorrow and anger rise when these incidents happen, there is also a feeling of helplessness. Could this happen to me? Or worse, to my children? It was one more collective trauma in a serious of collective traumas.
“Are you preparing to meet Jesus?”
I have a feeling that sign was pointing towards a future time when I – and all the other highway readers – die and face the consequences of our earthly life. Are we ready to confront our shortcomings? Or failings? Have we lived good lives worthy of inspection by Jesus?
By the time I was 100 miles past the sign, however, I was taking it another way? Was I prepared to meet Jesus? I did meet Jesus on that trip. I met Jesus in the people who served us coffee and tea, the hotel staff who prepared our rooms, and the other drivers on the road. I met Jesus in old friendships and extended family. In my frailer-than-last-year mother and all the people who take care of her when I am not there. All those people terrorized at Club Q and Walmart and the University of Virginia…Jesus was there with them, and you could meet Jesus in any of their eyes.
Jesus, after all, was the one who told us that when we feed or clothe or comfort the “least of these,” we have done it for him. And so, it is possible that we can meet Jesus in anyone we encounter who is suffering in some way. Right?
It turns out that meeting Jesus is not so much about consequences as it is about companionship. In my faith tradition, after all, it is Jesus who comes to meet us, not the other way around. And so, thanks to that sign, I looked for an met Jesus all along the road trip and all the way back home.