Does anybody plan a vacation like an outline for a book? How much research can one person do online before the articles printed from websites need their own folders? I suppose this is where my logical, analytical accounting brain fused with my imaginative, creative writing mind and plotted a journey like something I’ve never done before.
I had a vacation “theme”. Turning points in American History. The most important historical change in America could arguably be stated to have occured in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1776. Without those prominent men of their day and time composing and signing the Declaration of Independence, would we be collectively a nation from coast to coast and include fifty United States of America?
And going back further in time, men and families risked everything to leave the British Isles and European countries to sail across a vast ocean and arrive on eastern shores in the 1600s. Fort Orange in 1614 settled by the Dutch for commercial purposes. Plymouth Rock in 1620 by Pilgrims seeking religious freedom. Virginia, Georgia, New Jersey, and eventually thirteen colonies settled by our collective ancestors who gave up a known way of life for the hardships and unknown wilderness of a land called America.
America had one hundred and fifty years of history before getting to July 4, 1776. Every family had a turning point in their lives that became our country’s story. Everyone’s an immigrant, a newcomer to this land. I happen to know that all branches of my family tree on maternal and paternal sides arrived in America long before the Revolutionary War. It doesn’t matter what year our parents arrived, or our grandparents or great-great-great-great-grandparents arrived, we are citizens of America now. Their sacrifices and struggles to make a better life come to pass is bred from generation to generation into our hearts and souls.
That’s why my meager, ordinary and average life as a woman in 2002 is remarkable enough to step outside of that predictable comfort zone and stretch my boundaries. I’m not unique in having extraordinary dreams that my life could be wonderful and everything I deserve if I change. My personal turning point is just a raindrop in the ocean of all Americans. Every man, woman and child experiences major turning points. It’s the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we are privileged in America to rise up to the occasion and live our dreams.
Every state has it’s own settlement stories. The people who settled from Maine to Florida, from Minnesota to Texas, from Virginia to California left a trail of historical turning points. I was born and raised in Ohio. I could teach a history lesson about how special my home state is, but that’s not the purpose of my road trip. I’m all about LEAVING Ohio. A brief test run, if you will, of one week will set the stage for my success in actually moving to Maui in 2003.
I gathered information and articles from websites and learned plenty by the first week in July. Not only did I have detailed maps of the areas I planned to visit, but I had an accurate, historical background of the locations. Each stop on my journey would be a major turning point in American History. My quest was to emotionally and spiritually absorb and glean the importance of what those places meant to me as an American.
I was going on vacation. I planned a one week road trip. It was intended to be a solitary journey of discovery. Within me grew an unmistakable urging that this entire experience was designed to be something profoundly spiritual–between God and myself. From my personal turning point, I was on an odyssey, a quest to receive with open mind and willing heart an understanding of what it means to be a living generation from ancestors who settled in America.
It’s one thing to sit in the comfort of one’s home and spread out maps and papers and travel books and get excited about walking among some of the most historic locations in Pennsylvania and New York. It’s another to actually stand there and look out over an empty coal field next to a forest and know September 11th happened a few hundred yards away. It became overwhelming to walk the battlefield in Gettysburg along with Confederate reenactors through the field where Pickett’s Charge occurred in 1863. It turned me speechless to grasp the importance of touching the bannister in the replica of the actual room inside Independence Hall where men from each of the thirteen British colonies signed the Declaration of Independence–ON July 4th, 2002. Finally, I ended my journey in the land of my Dutch forebears and received such a surprise regarding turning points of history, that I knew it was predestined why I had to be on this journey.
From the first stop in Shanksville, I realized it wasn’t merely a curious desire to view an empty field where a plane crashed nine months earlier. September 11th changed my life, as it did for all Americans and indeed the world. It was the first stop on my vacation “agenda”, but I became one woman on an American Pilgrimage. The American Pilgrimage journey expanded when I experienced the long silent battlefields of Gettysburg. Independence Hall and another historical museum in Philadelphia overwhelmed me with a sense of gratitude. These men foresaw a land of freedom and pledged their wealth, honor and very lives so that I could live in America today. The reality of observing the area of my Dutch ancestors in Rennselaer County and seeing names in person was like a debt I paid back out of respect through the veil of time.
There is a greater reality to my road trip than I imagined when I thought it would be a “neat” idea to outline the turning points of American History along the journey. It became an American Pilgrimage, not as a slick phrase for a memoir/book I intend to publish. In actuality it’s a discovery that those important turning points in history are places I believe every American citizen should visit once in their lifetime. Beginning on July 1st, I will blog from the actual experiences of my journey in 2002.
So much happened during each day or the two days I was a tourist in Shanksville and Gettysburg and Philadelphia and Albany, New York that I can only share a brief overview. The American Pilgrimage doesn’t end on July 7th. I will continue to write about the depth of my experience as a solitary woman traveling to turning points in American History for the rest of July. All through the month of August–right up to the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2011. After that date, I’ll “wrap” up the month of September with the observations and significance of honoring these men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice so we can live a life of freedom in America today.
Preparing for the open road. Let the journey begin———-