In what felt like the classic beginning of a science fiction story, my wife Emily and I ended up on the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” skirting Area 51, after taking a wrong turn in the Nevada desert. We stopped for lunch at the Little A’Le’Inn, a watering hole for the UFO-believing public, detractors and tourists, and were left slightly unsettled by all the bizarre stories we heard.

In what felt like the classic beginning of a science fiction story, my wife Emily and I ended up on the “Extraterrestrial Highway,” skirting Area 51, after taking a wrong turn in the Nevada desert. We stopped for lunch at the Little A’Le’Inn, a watering hole for the UFO-believing public, detractors and tourists, and were left slightly unsettled by all the bizarre stories we heard.

Over the last couple weeks, Emily and I have travelled to a variety of places around the U.S. We went to a wedding in Idaho, taking a road trip from Las Vegas, up through Utah and then visited a student of ours in upstate New York who lives in an intentional Christian community.

Since we have both done some travelling, Emily and I are often asked questions such as “What is Haiti like?” or “How was it to live in London?” We often find it difficult to answer, because every place has a wide diversity of people, places and contexts.

To speak about an entire country or city is hard to do without trafficking in vast generalizations. We often end up making sweeping comparisons with the United States. But in covering four states in 10 days, I have been struck by how difficult it is to make generalizations about America.

Besides our meal in a restaurant dedicated to aliens, we have seen the brash ostentation of Las Vegas, flinty National Park Service rangers in Utah and crowds of obnoxious tourists from all corners of the world.

In Salt Lake City, we drank coffee in the town’s avant garde bookstore and took a tour from the Mormon missionaries in Temple Square. In Idaho, we observed the differences between the two sets of relatives invited to the wedding, some from Pennsylvania and others from nearby.

As I now sit in our apartment in Brooklyn, watching the sun go down over miles of rooftops and tight city streets – a world a way from the canyons of southern Utah – I am amazed at the incredible diversity of ways to be a human being.

It is a challenge to think about the variety of cultures, languages, ideas, faiths and preferences and consider how best to engage in society in a way that respects and values the many expressions of humanness.

But as people on the street hurry to prepare for Hurricane Irene, lugging bottles of water and discussing types of flashlights, one can see the ways in which we all have basic needs in common. On some level, we all share certain things – a desire for security, love, happiness and a fear of the unknown.