By Tom Ehrich

KINGMAN, AZ -- I took a stab at crossing the Mojave Desert on old Route 66 east of Barstow, CA. But the roadway was so rough that I thought it would shake my SUV apart.

After driving by a half-dozen abandoned service stations and diners, not seeing another car on the road, indeed not seeing a living creature of any kind, I came to two conclusions:

First, from a practical perspective, I needed to get onto better pavement, or else this trip would end early with a shattered vehicle.

Second, from a spiritual perspective, I saw Route 66 as a memorial to the past. The dry desert has kept the old relics standing. But they are just that, relics, not signs of present-day life. Life has moved on. No shame in that. But also no reason for my staying in the abandoned place.

I realized that relics and abandoned places might be interesting to the archeologist and historian, but to myself, as a spiritual seeker, they seem merely empty.

It felt like entering a dead church that is keeping the lights on but has no intention of living. Maybe I have seen too many of those lifeless churches.

On the radio came a smooth-talking preacher lambasting "unbelievers and liberals" for not buying his narrow brand of Biblical literalism and a doctrine of superiority. That, too, felt dead, not unlike the Islamic madrasa where impressionable youth are schooled in religious extremism, hatred, delusions of superiority, and violence.

So I returned to Interstate 40 and made tracks for Kingman, a small city on the eastern edge of the Mojave that is large enough to have motels. Here I found a functioning Western town, with a pleasant downtown and, yes, a coffee shop. I found a slot in the angle parking and had a delightful hour in the chatter of people on break.

Later, I walked back downtown from my hotel and had a passable barbecue dinner at Redneck's. Nothing fancy. But, again, the lively chatter of people going about their lives.

Life isn't about sheen or shine, age or beauty, or prosperity. Life, it seems to me, is about a decision to live as best one can in a difficult world and to make room for others in their living.

Route 66 might have been dead, but I saw plenty of life in the Mojave Desert. Small homesteads and towns where people are doing the best they can with today, and tomorrow is on their minds.

Route 66 showed yesterday well enough, and some will find that appealing. But in my quest of understanding myself, I find that I am not a citizen of yesterday. I have a yesterday, of course, and much of it haunts me, some of it warms me. But life is onward.