The Meaning of Life, the Universe and Road Maps


I’ll admit it.  I’m one of those people who likes to have a plan for everything.  When I was in high school, I wrote pages of outlines for each and every essay that looked something like the plans to the White House underground facility—only less legible.  University was no different, except for the fact that I could now drink beer while outlining papers (legibility not guaranteed).  Countless organizers over many years of polished, planned, prepared work and goals have taught me that the only way to be successful is to have a plan.  Up until this point in my life, the road had been laid out clearly.  Graduate from each year of school and at the end all would be revealed.  So when I found myself suddenly with no schedule or plan whatsoever I found myself asking this question: what do I do now with my life? It’s a simple enough question, but it inspires a lot more questions than answers.  I’ll try and answer that question for you [the imagined reader] or at least for myself.  But first: a story.

In her lifetime, my grandmother got lost many times.  But this time, in particular, was the worst. She had only just gotten her license—at the young age of 40—and this was to be her first road trip ever.  My mom, thirteen at the time, was sitting in the back seat of the old car, sandwiched in between her two crazy brothers and they were getting tired.  They had been driving along the winding, dusty roads of the countryside for hours.  Nana wasn’t used to driving, so she went slowly, pulling off to let the fast cars pass every once in a while.  When they had been driving for three or four hours and the sun had begun to set, my mother remembers feeling that rising panic as the realization set in that she might have to sleep in the car…with her brothers (ew).  But Nana didn’t stand for that.  She might have been terrible at reading maps (a trait that I inherited too), but she was incredibly resilient.  So instead, she said “Don’t worry, the sunset sets in this direction.  I see it from the kitchen window every night.  We’ll drive that way, because that is the way that home is.”  Sure enough, after another hour and half of driving into the sunset, they were home.

Thinking about this ill-fated car journey made me think: maybe, the magic of the journey lies in the mystery?  So what if my plans have changed?  Road maps aren’t the only way to get to where you need (or want) to go.  Maybe it’s not always a conventional route that we need to take, but either way you’ll get to where you need to be.  Maybe, like E.L. Doctorow says: “It’s like driving a car at night.  You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” So what do I do now?  I write.

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