Finished a book called The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck. It’s been called “a quintessential American story” and chronicles Rinker Buck and his brother Nicholas Buck traveling the 2,000-mile length of the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon with a team of mules and Nick’s trusty dog. As an aside, The Oregon Trail was also a wildly popular computer game back in the day. Some have even called those of us born at the end of the 1970s and the start of the 1980s “The Oregon Trail Generation”! This game where you had to get your party to Oregon (and buy supplies, hunt for food, deal with Dysentery, and navigate rivers) was so deeply ingrained in us that when I came down with Scarlet Fever in 4th grade I burst into tears in the doctor’s office because people rarely survived Scarlet Fever on the Oregon Trail! Good times.
I digress. Anyway! This book about the Oregon Trail was good because it was more than a history or travel book. Along the trail, Rinker learns a great deal about himself, even facing unresolved personal and family issues. He writes, “I knew that I was also out here seeking my past.” (pg. 97)
One of the personal issues Rinker faces is confronting the mantra the older boys of their large family learned in childhood to: “Never ask for help—provide it. Now I was on the dream journey of my life and surrounded every day with a surfeit of help. Receiving help, not providing it, made me feel guilty.” (pgs. 160-161) Yet there is no way that Rinker and Nick could travel from Missouri to Oregon in a covered wagon pulled by a team of three mules without any outside help along the way. People who provided a place on their ranches to unhitch the team and rest for the night, including helping with wagon repairs and resupplying. People who provided details about the land and routes to avoid as they mapped their journey. People who opened up their homes for food or showers on occasion to help these travelers feel a little more human.
Some of the stories kept reminding me of the call in our Christian tradition to show hospitality. We remember from Hebrews 3:12, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Showing hospitality is a tangible way to live out our faiths. It can make a huge difference when someone does need help, may have a difficult time asking for it, and receives help nonetheless. No matter what trails we’re traveling, let us give thanks when we can show hospitality because it’s a gift. And let’s not feel too guilty when we need to be on the receiving-end of hospitality too! Because it ends up in either case that we need each other.
(This Week’s Thoughts 10.4.18)