Last week was hard for me: I was sick, I was rushing to finish a teaching portfolio, I was anxious about my defense. But it stopped mattering as soon as I hit Friday afternoon, all of it, and do you know why? Well, I’ll be honest, it was in part because my thesis defense went really well. Actually it was exactly the conversation I needed—not overly full of praise, but a thoughtful and insightful questioning of the themes and narrative threads I’ve been trying to work into my book—and that obviously made me feel strong, and confident, but also lighter than air. But it was also because I hit the road, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s a road trip.

There is something like freedom on the highway, especially when it is just me and the dogs, listening to the radio and watching the sun set down a horizon we haven’t seen before. When I planned the trip to see my sister in Spokane one last time before they moved, I worried that it would be too much right after a busy defense weekend and I’d be overwhelmed by the travel. But my body knew better, and so I said yes anyway, and it was exactly right. Being on the road let me leave all the stress and worry of the last two months behind, a streamer of anxiety behind me. When I finally pulled up to Sam’s little red house, on the corner next to the seminary, I felt brand new.

I am lucky to have so many people in my family that feel like gifts, but my sister Sam is one of them especially. We are similar in many ways, and like lots of the same things, so the weekend included—but was not limited to—long walks in the dog park, cozy coffee shops, a patio happy hour, jackfruit barbecue sandwiches and a trip to Value Village. And of course, through it all, good conversation and the quiet restorative presence of my sister. But also, the beauty of a road trip, of being far enough away from home you forget you have a to-do list. That felt like a kind of magic to me, a balm to the spirit. I came home as I left it, light and happy, but with more too. A different kind of filled up.

I wrote on instagram the other day that I’m beginning to see a light at the end of the graduate degree tunnel, a time in which I may not be constantly bombarded by work and more work. A time when I feel better about saying no to things I really don’t want to do, even if it’s a good opportunity. This felt like the prelude to that, a kind of gentle separating. I’m looking forward to it.