The road is not a line between places; it is a place between places, a place of its own. You cannot understand the ravishments of the road unless you overcome the logistical way of looking at things. It is perhaps the most powerful impediment that our hustling way of life puts into the way of experience.
To some extent, any destination is an illusion – you never really arrive somewhere. Then there is also the fact that no amount of planning can make anything remotely predictable.
Itching for Life on the Road
In my first year of University, I walked amongst the shelves in the library and discovered Jack Kerouac by chance. This moment was of no small consequence. I was drawn by the simple title: On the Road. For the first time I had come across a writer who somehow understood this weird restlessness my 19-year-old self was feeling. The prose was filled with a mad urgent energy: “Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” It radiated this constant tangible itch to be on the road, never tiring of the possibilities beyond each unknown horizon.
Quite a few years have since gone by, and my life has panned out in such a way that I spent a great deal of it on the road. I never felt that this was intentional – this is just the way it happened. I would not have had it any other way.
Maybe, it even started earlier in life. Our family would spend long days driving around while my mother hunted for photographs, and my father told us stories about anything and everything. My grandparents had also spent their fair share of time on the road. It’s a place where stories are told and unfold simultaneously.
A different kind of education
The wanderer may be weary, but so is the stationary person. Even in times of weariness, fatigue or despair – the road calls. In moments where I seem to want nothing more than to be in the same place, it always lures me back, onwards. The road has been one of the most profound teachers in my life because of the people, experiences and very necessary lessons it has led me to.
We cling to a mainly instrumental view of the road. Such an instrumental view, leaves you blinded to the richness of meanings on the road itself. We hunger too much for arrival. The road is seen as an interval between meanings, the transit between here, and somewhere else. We sit still before the window and watch the world speed past, forgetting that we are the ones who are speeding and it is the world that is still. The road teaches us, that there is much to learn from developing a capacity for stillness.
Then there is the constant companionship of unpredictability. While it is good to plan ahead, it is necessary to know that something can and will almost always turn out a little different. Accidents will happen. You will get lost (physically and existentially). You will miss a bus, a train, or a flight.
The car will break. In the middle of the desert. On a Sunday
More or less at the same that your phone’s battery is about to die. This can cause anxiety, anger and frustration – but, if you allow it, lead to a valuable detour. You learn to improvise, and handle situations. You learn how to make the best of it.
Built to Roam
We are too enamoured for destinations. If departure is the past and arrival is the future, then the road is the present, and there is nothing more difficult, or rewarding, than learning to live significantly in the present. This is accomplished by an education in transience. Almost as powerful as the sea and the sky, the road is an emblem of immensity. From the stretch of even the most ordinary road, you may infer a suggestion of infinity. This infinity is filled with possibilities, and challenges, deep bonds and heartbreak. While life in perpetual motion is filled with challenges, it is something that I have embraced with open arms, and that simple embrace has made all the difference.
Perhaps this is why singers and artists have often preferred to wander: roaming refreshes and expands the spirit. It is of course for sustenance that the singer or artist roams from town to town, but not only for material sustenance.
It is an opportunity to gain distance (which is a gain) and to observe more; to do it differently and better, maybe even to get it right. The wanderer is the figure who recognises the gift of alienation. As a stranger she has the force of a fresh eye and an unexpected mind.