on sunday morning i was driving from cincinnati to steubenville OH for a concert that afternoon. i was speeding along, and was at about the halfway point when i saw a hitchhiker. i dont see hitchhikers very often.
between 1995 and 2003 i did a lot of hitchhiking. many thousands of miles, all over the US and a little in the UK. i loved it. i mean, i REALLY loved it. it felt as expressive to me as painting, as adventurous as gorgeous hikes in the mountains, and as holy as church.
to me it felt like (and feels like) one of the most direct ways to interact with others. i have always loved talking with strangers, hearing stories, finding new things. and the social aspect of hitchhiking had all of those things. not to mention it was a free, exciting way to get me from here to there, as part of my larger journey - wherever it was.
to give a little sense of what i mean: during that time i hitched around new england countless times. my longest trips were from boston to atlanta GA, and from albuquerque NM to missoula MT. when i was in college i would often hitchhike the 8 miles to school instead of taking the bus because i found i could get there in the same time (if not faster) and have a great story to tell all by 9 am.
the first time i ever did it was when i my bike had broken, in the middle of a bike trip, out in the middle of rural upstate NY. it was desperation and exhaustion that led me to do it. and as i lifted my thumb, all the "voices of reason" and normalcy were ringing in my ears - "this is WRONG". they told me again and again how bad it was to hitchhike - how dirty and abnormal and freakish. still, my bike was broken and i was 50 miles from any help.
then, it turns out those voices were completely wrong. hitchhiking that day turned into regular hitching for the next 8 years and changed my life. i learned so much about people, about myself, and about how the quality of thinking influences our experience. during those 8 years, and hundreds of rides, i had 2 rides in which i needed to think on my feet about my safety - and in both those cases, god supplied me with the right things to say and do, both to keep me safe, and to actually help and support the other person.
maybe amazingly, maybe not, over those 8 years, i noticed that about 60 percent of the conversations (and a much higher percentage of conversations on long trips) turned to the subject of god or spirituality. this is why hitching became as holy to me as church. it was so easy to see that people wanted to badly to connect, to open up. i became a good listener with an understanding and forgiving ear, and very often we would talk about tender, intimate, spiritual things, i know we both would leave feeling more alive, and more comforted for it.
i do not recommend hitchhiking to everyone. i know my position as a man, practically puts me in a different position from a woman. and certainly, as in any situation out in the great wide world, we must be wise, sensitive, and discerning. but i will say this - i base my understanding of the world on the firm idea that we are a spiritual family, the children of one good god. and it is as much the fear of strangers, that it so openly purveyed in our culture that causes the problems, the dangers, the violence we fear. i have felt the great love that hitchhiking has given to me - to see the tender familial bonds that can exist between strangers when an expectation of it is present. let's NOT be afraid of strangers. let's actively seek to wisely and compassionately live out our nature as a family.
so, last sunday, i passed this guy going 70, and as i did i peered at him as closely as i could, to discern anything i could discern. for me intuition plays a big part. and, as silly as it may sound, he looked "normal" enough, so i slowed to a stop, about a quarter mile past where he was and he jogged up to the car.
we rode together for about 15 miles. he was about 19 years old, said he was on his way to his dad's house, and was coming from oklahoma. very quickly the conversation came around to his belief that god was taking care of him. we celebrated that together, i gave him a cd and a bag of food, and we parted company. and as i drove away i thanked god for giving me the opportunity to see such goodness and innocence in the world, and for the opportunity to give back just a tiny bit of the great generosity and hospitality that i receive every day.
what do you think about hitchhiking?