My husband and I are driving across the United States.
As my husband and I make our way across the country, we tend to begin our days with some moans and groans – a 9-hour drive today – what are we going to do? Each day we tally up the hours spent in the car (What did we expect; this is a road trip after all!) and anticipate the day with dread (Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration). That’s challenge number one (I have a long list but I will spare you a recitation of them all).
Yesterday when we left Taos, New Mexico on our way to Oklahoma City all we could think of was the length of the trip ahead of us that day. But then the landscape surprised us; instead of the desert we were expecting, there was lush greenery, rivers and streams and rolling hills. It was breath-taking. Later in the day we drove through Texas and confronted a totally different panorama – vast stretches of farmland as far as the eyes could see. Noticing the lack of streetlights and imagining the blackness of the night, we envisioned the stars (which are very exciting for people who live in cities and never see them) and were once again inspired to sing “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas” – sorry but my childhood neighbors had a player piano and this was one of the tunes available.
Anyway, what we realized, or what we reminded ourselves, cliché or not, is that our trip isn’t only about getting from a to b to c; it’s about what we see along the way as well. Including the time in the car. The travel time is not solely instrumental; it’s an opportunity to see beautiful and interesting and illuminating parts of the country. It’s a chance to talk, to learn, to grow.
While I can’t say it’s not about the destination (there are children and grandchildren waiting there!), it is about the journey as well. Yes, it’s trite and corny, but it’s true. Clichés don’t spring from nothing and we are experiencing the reality of this one on a moment by moment basis.
Focusing on the journey allows us to stop checking the clock every few minutes. Even though there are no children in the car with us, it quiets the voice that keeps whispering, “Are we there yet?” It allows us to embrace the detours, the dirt roads, the small towns, the whole adventure. Even being stopped by the police! (Apparently in Oklahoma it’s against the law to have anything on your dashboard and while we didn’t have any large hanging furry dice, we did have a stand for our phone sitting there. Since that seemed like the safest way to see the directions and drive, we were a little puzzled by the whole thing until the owners of the bed and breakfast where we stayed – enjoying the bed but not the breakfast! – explained that this is a big drug route and they probably saw our California license plates and used the phone stand as an excuse to get a “free peek” inside our car. Nothing suspicious, just lots of chocolate bar wrappers so we were free to go.)
All that time in the car gives my husband and me the opportunity to discuss issues, to revisit and recalibrate our hopes and dreams, to discuss our goals for the future and, if I can indulge the cliché one more time, to focus on our spiritual journey, reminding ourselves that the journey really is the key.
We are also trying to stay in the moment – yet another cliché coming to life. I have a tendency to focus on the future – what are we going to do in Memphis, where am I going to exercise (a big obsession of mine) and what time do we need to get to the grocery store to get the biggest selection of kosher food. But if I’m always focused on the next stop, I miss the experience of the one I’m at. I’m trying to slow myself and my mind down, to just look around and enjoy the sights. This trip has been something we’ve spoken of for years and now that we’re actually doing it, I want to make the most of it. (We’re not going to do it again!). So I’m looking out the window of our room at the river meandering below us, seeing the sun rise and appreciating the beauty and the gift of this time, this space, this trip, this opportunity. I’m trying to appreciate every experience at the time and not just be rushing on to the next. Easy to say, hard (at least for me) to do.