Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon.
For the past four weeks, I have been zig-zagging my way through the land of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louis Lamour as I follow the Oregon Trail, yes, you guessed it, to Oregon! Every turn in the road has been so breathtaking, and my imagination likes to run away and envision how it looked “way back when”. There are hints of the good old days every now and then from a random ghost town to abandoned ranches and dilapidated homesteads, not to mention pronghorn antelope sightings. Truth is, I grew up reading western and pioneer novels at a young age and this is has been my first experience seeing the landscapes I only ever read about. I have always been captivated by the fact that people just like you and me traveled across wild, unknown country because of some intangible pull to see over the next horizon and find a better life. It is thrilling to follow their foot steps and also astonishing to see how times change, as I hurtle along in a car on blacktop where they used to plod along in covered wagons pulled by horses and oxen.
Trouble is, I think it’s easy for me to wear those proverbial rose-coloured glasses when looking at both the past and the present because I love old things, old stories, and the mystery of a totally different time period. Yet, I can only imagine how harrowing and messy the past truly was. And I’m learning just how troubled the present is when we strip away the hip revitalization of small towns and seek to see the people who are still in the grip of poverty and hard times.
For example, though this is not a historical-political commentary, I will say that driving through the west and seeing people who are still marginalized and displaced to this day, has caused a knot in the pit of my stomach to form that hasn’t quite gone away. This journey I’m on with The Extreme Tour brings to the forefront the reality of the social landscape for which the beautiful scenery is only a backdrop. As we seek out the areas of town that others may have written off, we are on mission to have a celebration for the people who are rarely celebrated. It is sobering to see that in every city there are far too many who fit this description. And yet this isn’t an “us” and “them” situation. I recognize that I can’t explain why I get to play music and travel, but instead I see more and more of myself in their stories and struggles, and it quickly becomes “we”. If I hadn’t had people helping me, encouraging me, supporting me, would I still be where I am today? I’m not quite sure. So, if I can encourage, support, and build up someone who hasn’t had a helping hand in while, I want to be there, doing that. I’m just grateful that music is the means of bringing us together in that moment.
One such moment was with a young boy in a town in Wisconsin. He came to the event to watch the other skateboarders compete. To his disappointment, there was a poor turn out so we couldn’t do the skateboard competition after all. But God always has a plan for what seems to be a let down. This young guy told me that in fact, it was his birthday the day after the event and his mom was going to get a skateboard for him! He hadn’t yet learned how to ride one though. Fortunately, our resident extreme sports team member, Graydon, was the perfect one to coach him as he tried it out for the first time. Not having a skateboard competition meant he had the whole park to himself to learn and practice. Even his sisters gave it a try too. Not having a skateboard competition meant we didn’t have a “winner” to give the prize to, which was a generously donated gift certificate and merch from the local skate shop. Well. It ends up that this whole plan for a competition was a divine set up to celebrate the birthday boy. He got the prize package and left a very happy skater. It was beautiful. There were tears. (lol).
So, side note, I also played music at the event. But it was just the backdrop for the bigger purpose of celebrating a kid who needed to know he was important. And that is just the way it should be. I’m grateful to be on this tour, learning to see people everywhere that before I might just walk by and not truly “see”. Once we “see” people, we have a choice to respond or ignore. And too many people have been ignored for too long.
Turns out that “seeing” the people around us, and affirming their worth, just might be the thing that tips the scales in favour of love and purpose and a little less hurt for everyone, everywhere.