COLUMN: To boldly go where we’ve been before

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A version of this was broadcast as my weekly contribution to yesterday’s “Between You and Me” on 91.7 KAXE.

To boldly go where we’ve been before
By Aaron J. Brown

In science fiction, such as Star Trek and Star Wars, travelers accelerate past the speed of light watching stars streak by. The space ships and we viewers never seem to hit the stars, even though that’d be statistically likely. The captain just pushes a button and we all end up in a new world.

As a kid I used to watch the snowflakes pass through the high beams of the family station wagon on our way home from Christmas Eve at grandma’s and imagine them as stars, too. We left one universe and entered another, a 100 degree swing from the white hot fusion of the family gathering to the frozen plastic interior of our Cutlass Cruiser. From there we entered the calm warmth of our home just in time for Santa to somehow sneak down the tiny exhaust pipe of the gas furnace in our trailer house.

Christmas in America seldom means crossing into an unknown frontier. Instead, we tread along old roads to places we’ve been before. Only a few times in an average American life do we change our Christmas venue. Once a generation? Once a marriage? Anyway, not often. The children grow up knowing a place and the memories pile on as they will. Like the life of a star, whose fate is determined by its mass and proximity to other stars, each of us holds our own memories of the holiday, some good and some bad: Yes, influenced by our families but not consciously.

This is the season where many of us plan to journey somewhere – for Christmas, for the New Year, perhaps to escape Christmas and the New Year. This is among the most important trips of the year, the one that affects relationships with people we purport to care about, often truthfully.

We take this journey from a new life, a new normal, our first apartments and college dorm rooms, with our new children, still with that new people smell, to somewhere old in our known world. We always brag that our ancestors were so brave in crossing oceans, moving from Ishpeming to Eveleth, or building that house from tamarack logs. Indeed, they were. But sometimes it also takes bravery to again march into the places we know. Even if the circumstances of your life are roughly the same, and that’s no guarantee, who the heck knows what ills befell your relatives this year?

Uncle Joe has been having problems with his business. Aunt Jane was seen on the arm of a man who is not her husband. Cousin Sam stabbed that guy with a meat thermometer. The guy was 98 degrees. Cousin Sam is out on bail. This is one family, just one corner of your extended family, which no doubt also includes people who also disapprove of your life choices. The wine flows freely, and the truth, and the cheese, which also means there will be gas, and not the kind selling for $3 a gallon.

All of this is well known before you load up the children, and/or the presents, and/or your own self-doubts, pile into the car for a destination where you played as a child, or at minimum a newer place with people from your childhood. And you will go. You will.

The journey across a wind and snow swept highway to such a place might as well be interstellar. Those snowflakes might as well be titanic balls of burning gas, each signifying a distance that seems insurmountable.
Your minivan speeds along, however, with the speed of the Starship Enterprise, the Millennium Falcon, or at least at the speed of life, which is fast. Too fast. Certainly too fast to miss this.

Aaron J. Brown is a writer and community college instructor from the Iron Range. Read more at his blog or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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