March 15 2018
by Elisabeth Stringer
When I left for Spring Break Friday evening, I made room among the snacks and coats piled in the back of a Nissan Versa, greeted my friends junior Christina Gaebel and sophomore Hailey Kramer, and we drove away. We would spend most of the next nine days in the rented car — which we nicknamed “Eve” — whirling through major cities and historical sites as we traveled over 2,600 miles down the East Coast.
It felt like running away. Curled into the backseat of the car, I watched the heavy responsibility of shaping myself into a student, adult and Christ-follower disappear along with Wheaton’s buildings. I wanted to forget campus, just for a week. Every hour of studying for midterms, every class discussion on poverty, every lecture that forced me to reevaluate my beliefs, every late-night existential crisis. I hoped to lose myself in the liminal space of traveling and adventure and return to campus someone different — someone better able to battle stress and balance life.
Even the nine days of non-stop travel did not leave me completely refreshed. But as we traveled through New England, the people, places and stories we encountered reminded me that there is a lighter side to life. I did not return to campus with profound, philosophical lessons, but I did come back with a fistful of stories.
Receiving hospitality became a recurring theme throughout our trip. We slept in the homes of relatives, family friends, friends of friends and the families of friends. Every night we stayed up late talking with our hosts about their lives and ours, and every morning we left with a bag of snacks and cups of coffee.
We followed the red-brick Freedom Trail in Boston, passing by important moments in American history. Kramer and I lost Gaebel at one point and found her in front of Paul Revere’s home. When we asked what she was doing, Gaebel replied, “I’m reveling in a nostalgia that is not my own.”
There was a quote tacked up by the door of First Parish Church in Plymouth. Attributed to Norman Cousins, it read, “Memory is where the proof of life is stored.” Plymouth was full of memories, from the rock where the Pilgrims first stepped off the Mayflower to their gravestones on the hill.
New Haven, CT
We spent the night in a monastery in Connecticut, sleeping in the rooms set aside for travelers. We slept in the deep silence and utter darkness of the tiny rooms until bells that woke the nuns at dawn woke us also.
After we walked an hour through a snowstorm to find yet another museum site closed, we took shelter in coffee shops. After spending two hours at Starbucks, we walked to a local coffee shop — where the only other customers were the baristas who served us at Starbucks. We may not have seen all the sites in Philadelphia, but we made friends. There’s nothing like a snowstorm to incite conversations with strangers.
In Washington, DC, there is a story around every corner. Life bustles around the great historical monuments that tower in the background. It’s a city where you can feel history being made as you contemplate memorials to the history that has already been told.
As I woke up to classes Monday morning, I noticed that my room catches the morning sunlight. I realized with a start that campus can be pretty when you are not rushing from one class to another, and I listened with genuine interest as one of my friends told me stories about her childhood home in Slovenia. It took running away from Wheaton for a while to remember how to notice the stories around me.