At Home for Easter with Gratitude and Humility

By Tony Mussari

Photographs By Kitch Loftus-Mussari

If people cannot love one another and understand one another, there is no hope.  

Stephanie Fitzgerald

It was shortly after 3:30 p.m., when we parked the car in front of our home in Windsor Park.  The trip odometer recorded 8,590 miles. The calendar told us we were on the road for five weeks. Our trip map of the United States displayed 23 highlighted states. Our portable drive had 110 folders archiving 18,000 digital pictures. These are important numbers to be sure, but there was something that was far more important to us.  We were home, and our hearts were full of gratitude and humility.

During this phase of our Face of America journey, we met people who were kind. We saw things that were beautiful. We experienced moments that were inspirational, and we recorded memories that we will never forget.

At the moment, we are still trying to process everything.  It took us two days to unpack the car, and less than two hours to get into the garden to begin spring cleanup.

This morning, Kitch sorted through 153 pieces of mail we received while we were on the road.

While Kitch worked upstairs, I sat in my editing room previewing scenes from our visit to Point Lookout, Missouri, Little America, Wyoming, Wallace, Idaho, Salt lake City, Utah, and Seattle, Washington.

The sights and sounds of the 80 member chorus of the College of the Ozarks singing American Anthem and Stephanie Fitzgerald singing America the Beautiful brought tears to my eyes.

Listening to the people we met in Little America, Wyoming, reminded me of the goodness and helpfulness of the American people.
Returning to Wallace, Idaho,  was a very happy moment. I was able to listen to the thoughtful and wise words of Jamie Baker

The footage from Salt Lake City celebrating ten beautiful faces that represented America at the Vancouver Olympics was a classic Face of America moment made possible by the kindness and friendship of Paul Swenson.

Throughout this trip we were reunited with students who once sat in our classrooms. In a suburb of Seattle, we visited an animal rescue shelter that is staffed by a group of volunteers that included a former student, Dawn Gerken and her mother, Marie.

Our reunion at the shelter in Kent Station had special significance for us. The people who work there give testimony to one of the fundamental characteristics of America, volunteerism. They are an important part of our story, and we will be writing about them and their work in the days ahead.

This summer, Dawn and her mother will visit Windsor Park.

This afternoon, one of our neighbors and a good friend, Terry Evans, stopped his car in front of the garden. In his characteristically positive and supportive way he spoke 23 words that touched my heart in a very special way: Welcome home.  You have done something that most Americans dream about, but never accomplish. Congratulations and thanks for sharing the journey with us.

A friend from my days at St. Mary’s High School, Joe DeVizia, wrote these encouraging words: Tony and Kitch, your journey should be developed into a book.

From Stephanie Fitzgerald’s mother, we received these kind words: Stephanie was very proud to be a part of your project.  I will continue to follow your adventures through your blog.  It gives me hope for the future.

When we opened the mail, a note from Julie Marvel, the woman who gave us the reason to make this trip, put everything into perspective. It read: Welcome Home…Thanks for sharing your journey with me, my family and my students. We are all better because of it.

We are home, and in a very real way we are refreshed, renewed and reborn. In so many ways, we will never be the same. We are more aware of the incredible beauty of our country, the friendliness of its people, the way it is perceived by individuals from all walks of life, the hopes and dreams of Americans who are young, old, rich, poor and everything in between.

We have learned powerful, life changing lessons in humility. We have experienced the goodness and kindness of Americans in every state we visited.

From the 20 year old heart of Stephanie Fitzgerald, we received a great gift, an Easter gift. It was presented with honesty and integrity in 14 words: If people cannot love one another and understand one another, there is no hope.

After five weeks on the road, it all comes down to that, and those words best describe what is in our hearts as we celebrate Easter 2010.

We are convinced that the America of tomorrow will be better than the America of today, if we can apply Stephanie’s dictum to every aspect of our lives.

In our opinion, that will only happen when our hearts are filled with a spirit that is best described by Thomas Merton:

 “Our real journey in life is interior:
it is a matter of growth, deepening,
and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of
love and grace in our hearts."

“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real”

“The grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference."

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

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