in passing


“We’re traveling in opposite directions. Every time we meet, I know him more, he knows me less. I live for the days when I see him. But I know that every time I do, he’ll be one step further away.” — River Song, Doctor Who, The Impossible Astronaut (2011)

We are always in the passenger seat of our own lives.

I don’t mean that in a God-is-my-pilot type of way, but the really, really deep truth is that life moves really, really fast. Sometimes, the trip takes us through beautiful country, sometimes it’s endless stretches of corn fields and the occasional neon barn cross, others road construction when the closest burg with a semi-functioning bathroom is 237 miles away. (Turn up the music and clench the legs until they cramp.)

I suffer from periodic episodes of wanderlust, so the governing idiom of this entry isn’t helping matters. There is a strong and growing stronger feeling in my head that I want to be on the road to work and, instead of getting off at the Campbell Ave. exit, keep driving. I’ve been to and seen a lot of the country, and certain parts of the nation beckon for me, while friends and family are now scattered across the four major time zones and beyond.

Distance, though, is arbitrary: I have friends and family with whom I am very close and they are miles or states away, while those close in proximity have tended to be more distant. Seldom do we find that the people nearby are near.

In reality, we are people who hitch a ride with one another for a while, and all we do is pass through each others lives. We have this notion–wonderful, idealistic proposition that it is–that our friends will always be with us, our family will always be there and that where we’re going is completely worth the trek getting to it. I’m not here to say that this is ridiculous or impossible, it’s not. However, even the most intimate friend, the one one loves, is only with a person in passing.

The ’27 Yankees eventually became the 1930 Yankees, which eventually became the 1966 Yankees, while the 1971 Brewers eventually became the 1982 Brewers, who became the 2001 team who became the 2011 club. Glam rock bands tour the world with only one original member, others have the decency to give up the ghost. Great stories come to an end. Everything ends. Teams relocate, business collapse, athletic legends retire, bands break up, radio stations change formats, marriages end one way or another, authors stop writing and churches get assimilated into the satellite borg while becoming Sunday morning television-watching hotspots. And you and I will, too, end.

In the meantime, we travel. I’m not so cynical as to say all we do is enjoy the scenery and the occasional conversation, but eventually, the destination is reached. The race is run. That which begins must conclude.

Ironically, it is the finitude of life which gives rise to immortality. The timeless, memorable (both for better or worse) nouns are such because they are merely segments of existence. In the same way, the more prolific nouns are often prone to being cheapened: the same band that recorded Achtung Baby recorded No Line on the Horizon. Dave Chappelle had two transcendent seasons of his sketch comedy series before bailing out on season three because he wasn’t pleased with his own work. The same writer who penned The Green Mile wrote scores of second-rate novels and stories in addition to some of his best work. (For my money, my favorite work by Stephen King is On Writing. I don’t think he is a particularly great writer, but that was engaging and memorable far beyond much of his oeuvre. Go fig.) Soderbergh should have stopped making movies after Ocean’s Eleven. The aura around Robert Johnson is that his complete recorded work fits on two compact discs, while Elvis, the king of rock and roll, descended into self-parody before he was done in on the throne.

The moral of these cautionary tales is that some is good, and more is seldom better. The sure path to being remembered is to realize in what we do with our lives that we are temporary. To recognize that we have limits, that each of us has an exit that must be taken to reach our respective destinations. We drive and are driven, we bring people along for parts of our sojourn, we are responsible for the company, making sure we have enough gas money and that the mixtape is suitable for the long haul.

So, I could take the highway past work tomorrow and end up eventually in Louisville, or I could follow the old route 66 up to Chicago (…but why?) or follow it south and west to Santa Monica. Or I could realize that I’m not the one driving, and those who are riding with won’t always be there, while others were left a few exits back and others still yet to come along.

And, sometimes, we realize the people we thought we were traveling with, like River Song and the Doctor were really just heading the other way and that what we thought was a destination was really a rest stop. Sometimes, the stops along the way are the most meaningful parts of the trip because they were not the destination.

In short, this too shall pass.

POSTSCRIPT: Upon further review, this post is reminiscent of and thus now linked to my work on epilogomena. For more, read here, here and here. –b., 9.55 pm

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