Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Road

Today, we're going to pretend.  Let's say we're on a road, driving along, in the dark.  Our headlights illuminate the way ahead. We see a road, straight and narrow, lined with ditches on both sides.  Outside those ditches, only trees--an impenetrable barrier.   There's nothing up ahead we want to go to--we can see that pretty clearly.  In fact on the map, the road pretty much stretches off the page; no towns, no attractions.  Just an endless road for far longer than we've got fuel to go.   That can't be right--roads don't go nowhere, do they?  But that's what the map shows, and so far as we can see, it seems to be true.  We've driven down this road for an awful long way, and nothing.  We'd like to find something, go somewhere, but this road doesn't seem to be leading anywhere.

But there's no choice.  We know what's behind us.  Nothing we want to go back to.  We're running from what's back there--no way we're going to turn around and go back to that!  And so we drive on ahead.  We turn on the high beams.  More road, more ditches, more trees.  No way but straight ahead.  And so we drive.

This road represents "the way things are."  It's a world of violence and corruption and fear and hate and lack and deprivation.  A world where, if we're smart at all, we see nothing good coming.  We know that we've always been told the road will change--once we kill enough people and install the right governments, we'll have licked that "commie threat" and we can live in peace.  But then there's the oil crisis, and pollution, and the recession, and the Muslims and the terrorists.  And after them (if there is an "after them"), there will be someone or something else to fear. 

We're told that if we work hard, we'll get ahead and we can lie back and enjoy the fruits of our labor.  But we never actually get ahead.  We work, and we get a bigger house, a nicer car, a bank account.  But we never actually get to stop paying for it.  There's taxes and insurance  on the house, even if we "own" it thirty years and three or four times its value later.  There's hundreds of dollars of utilities to be paid each month to keep it warm or cool and to be able to wash ourselves and flush the toilet.  There's compulsory insurance on the car, even when it's paid off.  Inflation keeps eating the bank account, so it's never as "enough" as it was when we put it there. 

We know that years ago, people worked long days, every day and got paid in scrip for the company store, and we're told we're better off, and yet, even though we've got paid "vacation," we've got to check the email, answer the cell phone, and worry about what's waiting when we get back on Monday.  And God help you--if you don't, well there's a lot of people out there who want your job.  We're only a minute away from having nothing.  We know that, just like yesterday, when we turn on the TV, radio, or computer, the news will tell us that someone's been shot, stabbed, beaten, or raped; that there's a war here, an insurgency there, and someone who hates us for no reason that anyone wants to tell us.  We know that it will be the same tomorrow too.  We've all lived on this road long enough to know that the scenery never changes--maybe the names do, but the road is the same, endlessly.  And we keep driving, and the road, straight and narrow and unchanging, keeps rising up to meet us. 

Somewhere along the road, the revolutionary idea pops into our heads that our "road" isn't all there is.  Outside of those ditches and trees is something, and there's a way over there that maybe we're not seeing, because it's dark and our headlights only light up the little patch of road right in front of us, but logic says that the earth doesn't cease to exist just past those trees--it's got to be there.    But, we tell ourselves, it's too hard to get over there.  This car won't go through those ditches.  We can't just drive through the trees.  And what if there's nothing over there either?  So we drive.  And every time that nagging thought pops into our heads, and we try to rubberneck and watch for a way to the other side of the trees, we risk running off the road.  So we keep driving.

Eventually, the car begins to run low on gas.  It's becoming clear that we can't just keep driving, or we're going to get stuck out here.   And that nagging idea reappears in our minds that there's something on the other side of those trees, something that we can't see in the headlights.  Something there seems to be no convenient way to get to.  Something that we can't even take the time to crane our necks to see as we hurtle down the road, because we might have a wreck while we're looking.    And then suddenly, it occurs to us to pull over.  And as soon as we take our foot off the accelerator and begin to slow, the light of dawn starts to come over the sky.  As we slow further, it becomes apparent that there are breaks in those trees, small barely used tracks off the road.  There are lots of them.  Why did we never see them?  Well, we couldn't really look, because we were driving so fast down the road. 

Now, barely creeping along,  we see, there are lots of exits from the road.  None of them are as wide or well-defined; some are hardly wide enough to fit through, and they're rough and crude from non-use, but there they are.  And they lead...where?   Well, if we stop our car and get out and peer down some of them, we can see a bit.   The light dawning.  A slower pace, because the road is so unused.  Hints of rolling hills and peace down some.  Hints that fear diminishes down others.  A teeny sliver of a view of happiness and contentment over there on a hill with the first ray of sun lighting it up.  When we turn back toward the road and look where our car is pointing, it's still dark, the pavement stretching endlessly in the weak beam of our headlights and the barriers along the sides still shading out all the light that's dawning over on the side roads.   And we wonder, should we turn and take the risk that there's really nothing better to the right or the left?  Or should we just keep driving.  It's hard to know, since there's only tantalizing tidbits to be seen of what lies beyond the trees.

 The fact is, we can't find out what's out there until we get off the road and start in a different direction.   But whatever is outside those ditches and groves, the real point is this:  while we were driving, we lived in the illusion that there was only the road.  We thought we knew the truth--the road goes only forward to nowhere or back to where we left.  We believed we had no choice.  But we were wrong.  We always had the choice.   We always will.

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