90,000 Miles to Me

31,876 Miles • Indiana

Driving into Indiana, I was greeted with this beautiful sight shortly before sunset.

Here’s something I learned on the drive here:

Van Life Tip #17: Don’t eat half a watermelon in one sitting when your pee bucket is already nearly full and you won’t be able to empty it until the next day.

I got to Indiana a couple of days early, which gave me time to recuperate from the long drive before…the reason why I am here…my friend’s PhD defense! 

We had dinner the evening before, during which she tried to describe a very high-level math thesis in terms such that I could get at least a general idea of what she’s been working on. It was really helpful the next day as, although I couldn’t follow any of the math itself—I stopped after calculus 1—I felt like I had some vague idea of what was going on. I was probably wrong, but the illusion was nice.

She did very well at the defense, was authentically herself, and clearly knew her topic thoroughly. And yes, she passed! I am really proud of her!

The next day I helped her clean out her office at Perdue as she got ready to move for her first postdoc math teaching job at a private college.

I’ve traveled a long way in what, for me, is a relatively short amount of time to be here for my friend. I wanted to show her my support as she finishes up what has been a 7 or 8 year process of getting her PhD, but it wasn’t until after the event, reflecting on this, that I’m realizing that this is perhaps my first big venture into living the life that I want to live. To making a big priority of the few close friends that I have known for a long time and whom I love dearly. I hope that in the future I do more of this. More of caring for people who I care about. I want to be there for the people who are important to me. 

Recently I ran across this quote by William Durrant: “You are what you repeatedly do.” Tweaking that a bit, “I am what I have repeatedly done, and I will become what I repeatedly do.”

This gives me hope. I am the way I am not simply because of forces I cannot control or flaws in my personality that I cannot alter. There are reasons for why I am the way I am, and if I want to be a better Me in the future, I have the ability to control at least some things.

Though I cannot control much of what happens to me, I can choose how to respond; how to act in the little moments that seemingly don’t matter. Those little moments form patterns of responses that gradually become instilled, whether bad or good, that then play out, seemingly automatically, in those bigger moments that do matter profoundly.

In this case, I have been making little choices for the last two years to put friends first, valuing these connections as priorities, which made the decision to come here to support my friend an easy one. As I continue to make this choice, it will continue to form me into the person that I want to be.

The next morning, we met up to go camping in southern Indiana for a couple of days before she heads off to her new job.

We drove through the town of Loogootee, IN. I like how the name sounds in my mouth as I say it.

As we drove into a free state campsite called Young’s Creek, I recognized another camper’s very distinctive van from my one night in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, more than a month ago.

Covered in a full van wrap of Star Trek: The Original Series characters, her van is hard to miss. And here she is again. We walked over and said hello and I asked if she was at the other campsite at that time and she said yes, that was definitely her. How weird that we would cross paths again in a tiny, remote campsite so far from another tiny, remote campsite, in both distance and time!

It was a very cute little spot in the woods that my friend and I both really liked, and we got to talk a lot, mentally decorating her new apartment. She spent a while revising the last formatting issues to submit her thesis officially, and I spent the time writing a blog post. We enjoyed some good meals together, and she declared herself fond of what she termed my “three ingredient salads.” It was really nice to have two extra days with my friend.

Eventually, she had to leave for her new job and I went into town to use the library’s Wi-Fi to plan where to go next, returning to camp for one more night. It stormed heavily that night, then rained off and on the next day. I loved it.