For many people, it’s a driver’s license. Or a cap and gown. A first apartment. It is a rite of passage into another stage of life.
For my wife, Jane, and me, it’s a teardrop trailer.
I tell people it is a small trailer that we will use to go camping and traveling. It isn’t a pop-up tent trailer. It is smaller than that. It is a small, lightweight trailer with somewhat of a streamlined teardrop shape. It is not air-conditioned. It has no TV. Just think of it as a bed on wheels — with doors and a roof.
Jane and I have made many transitions before this one. Graduations. New jobs. Children. New homes in new places. Partings with celebrations and tears. Arrivals with wonders and fears. The transition to my retirement is no exception.
For 25 years I held a relatively high-profile position at the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, editing a weekly newspaper, writing a regular column, responding to media questions, and speaking at times for the bishop. The staff at our Catholic Center offices threw a party for my retirement, a midday luncheon with guests — some expected, some a surprise — from various connections made over the years.
It was a great event for me, a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence, leaving just a little space before the story continues.
After the luncheon, Jane and I invited people to an “open house” of our teardrop trailer. There was lots of laughter and questioning of how the two of us could fit into a space not quite 4 feet by 8 feet, and just tall enough to sit beneath the curvature of the roof.
It’s like a hardtop tent, I said. It is all we need.
As a matter of fact, this tiny trailer brings Jane and me almost full circle to the first months of our marriage. That was when we packed a 9-by-9 canvas umbrella tent into our car and camped our way from St. Louis to San Francisco and back. We visited relatives and friends and saw so many of the wonders of the American West: Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs, Colo., the Great Salt Lake in Utah, the Marble Mountain Wilderness of northern California, the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Crater Lake in Oregon, and Twin Falls on the Snake River in Idaho, to name a few. And with the exception of the times we were guests in others’ homes, we took what little shelter we needed in that small tent.
If there is a lesson here, it must have something to do with the circle of life. We make our home where we will, but we often don’t realize how much we bring with us, or that the farther we travel, the closer we come to our beginnings.
Isn’t every transition like that? Whether it is marked with a driver’s license or a diploma, it contains an invitation of freedom from previous constraints while we search nonetheless for new security.
Evansville is our permanent home, with a house and a yard, good neighbors, and friends. We’ll stay here most of the time.
But Jane and I started our marriage as just the two of us — and now, with our two sons grown and gone, we will continue our journey, just the two of us. We will once again have the time and freedom to travel, to visit relatives and friends, and to see more of the natural wonders of God’s great earth.