Still Points + 500 Words

Wide Spot: Traveling Mercies

Last weekend, in company with a large percentage of western Canada, we stopped in Revelstoke. It was a hot mess: trucks, boats, trailers everywhere; long queues for bathrooms, burgers and gas. 

We were in the fuel line when someone towing a huge boat decided to back-up from the pump, an activity that snarled traffic as well as tempers. While I was judging that man with his behemoth toy, someone else got out and helped direct traffic. A traveling mercy, I realized.

Later that day, I walked into a crowded restaurant, dismayed by the hordes of people and confused about where to order. In my distraction, I tripped over the lip at the door. Hands reached out from every side to catch me: traveling mercies, again.

I didn’t grow up with the term “traveling mercies.” For me, it was just a weird sentimental saying until this summer. But in June, after years of planning, George and I took the trip of a lifetime. While the inspiring parts included ancient cathedrals, medieval villages, Atlantic puffins, Stonehenge and 29,000-year-old cave art, the difficult parts included cancelled and delayed flights, a heat dome, a rail strike, and Covid.

I find travel anxious-making. I feel vulnerable away from home. I don’t particularly like to depend on the kindness of strangers. Yet the hotel staff who brought meals when we were sick and isolated, the guy who offered up his bus seat when we were wobbly, the woman who moved her shop tables so I could exit the pedestrian mall into which I unwittingly drove: all these strangers were kind when they didn’t have to be. I came to understand these unexpected generosities as “traveling mercies.” Traveling mercies aren’t earth-shattering—a smile, a kind action, a willingness to forgive ineptitude. But these unexpected acts can knit the world together for someone who is sick, or tired, or lost, or afraid. 

Which brings me to this morning. 

It’s August. Many of us are working long, hot hours, have homes full of visitors, are enduring long lines at the grocery store, strangers on our favourite beaches. 

As I was standing in the kitchen trying to remember whether I’d brushed my teeth and when I’d turned on the water in the garden, our visiting teens were asking me to help pick out an outfit, decide on a hairstyle, look at a cute photo, sort out what allergy medication was needed and listen to a funny video. 

When I finally made it to the pharmacy, my mind was fried. I didn’t greet the lovely human who opened the door. I blathered about how overwhelmed I was. I didn’t even say “hello” until I’d anxiously sorted out what I needed. When I belatedly apologized for forgetting these necessary social acts, I was gently forgiven. Traveling mercies, even when I’m not traveling.

There are a lot of us around right now; a lot of us hoping for a little rest in the middle of the mess. So thank you, all, for the traveling mercies; and may I pass them on.

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