Over the river and through the woods

Within a couple hours of writing this, I’ll hit the road toward Louisville, Ky., where my wife lives. Like every Thanksgiving for the past 10 years, this one will involve driving a great distance to be with loved ones. Thus, the image of the journey resonates deeply with me, and calls to mind books and films that I’ve enjoyed.

My favorite Thanksgiving movie is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” staring John Candy. As Candy and Steve Martin embark on misadventures, the ideal of “home” looms on the horizon, hinted at in anecdotes and flashbacks, like Odysseus’ palace.

The film is a perfect mixture of melancholy and hope. While not taking itself too seriously, it manages to pull a few heartstrings. It’s very instructive for the holiday season.

I recently saw “Elizabethtown” starring Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom. I pass through Elizabethtown on my drive to Louisville.

Again, the motif of the journey – going back in geography and, in a sense, time, to one’s roots – is hard to miss.

The main character, who has achieved much success in the big city, has reached the end of his rope and, just as he’s about to make an irreversible mistake, he receives a call from his family back in Kentucky.

He is snatched from the jaws of despair by the sincere, hapless members of his family. At the end of his sojourn in Elizabethtown, he rises, as if from the waters of Baptism, to new life. Very inspiring. I’m sure there was a turkey or a ham in there somewhere.

Another of my favorite holiday journeys is that of Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher In the Rye.” Holden’s struggle with the vicissitudes of life is galvanizing.

Despite his irrepressible pessimism, he takes pleasure in small details and finds some enjoyment in the absurdity and strangeness of others.

My journeys are seldom as mythic or entertaining, but they’re meaningful to me.

I usually take the Natchez Trace from Tupelo to Nashville. The darkness, the solitude, and the Sleepy Hollow-esque menace of the forest drive me deep into myself, into a place that I’m not often able to go.

Some theologians claim that the most fundamental way to understand the human person is as a narrative. They say that, although there are so many things that make us up – biology, spirit, psychology, social interaction – at the most basic level, we are stories.

I find that very satisfying. It reveals to me deeper meaning in works of art, like books and movies, and allows me to enter into the story as if I were a character.

Taken as a whole, the Bible is quite a narrative experience, and Christians, as do people of other faiths with their sacred texts, enter into the story.

Tonight, like John Candy, Orlando Bloom, Holden Caufield – and, dare I say, my favorite Old Testament character, David? – I picture myself a long way from home, away from my wife and my cats. A long way from the warmth and familiarity of my own sheets and the taste of my own tap water.

When I rise from this keyboard, I’ll see myself packing a bag, grabbing a staff and heading into the dark forest.

The lights of Louisville are on the other side. There’s a table piled with food, a karaoke machine being tested and a simple, blue-collar South End church, within hoof-sound of the Twin Spires. It’s the place where I married a woman who, here in Tupelo, I miss very much.

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley
at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.