All day, I’ve been trying to think of a good post for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t want to write about relationships, and especially being happy about my own, I didn’t feel like gushing. Sure I could tell you how cute and chivalrous and silly Jamie is, but doesn’t it take away from the legitimacy of all those good qualities when you gush ad nauseam?
Tonight, as I was pulling through the Taco Johns drive-thru, alone and on the phone with my mother, I realized this would be my Valentine’s Day dinner. And then they started blasting Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” through the loudspeaker — just to make me feel bad? Biting into my Stuffed Grilled Taco ©, I questioned the moral code of the employees of Taco Johns and pondered posting about how people go out of their ways to make Valentine’s Day miserable.
But I’m taking the high road (Taco Johns).
This afternoon I had to drive to Burley, ID, about an hour away from where I live, and it was taking FOR.EVER. You know how when you drive somewhere you don’t recognize, it seems longer? Well this was somewhere I didn’t recognize, and there was nothing there TO recognize. It was endless stretches of farmland as far as the eye could see, and while a beautiful abstraction of America’s spacious sky and fruited plain, it wasn’t exactly a “time-passer.”
But like a simple thing that gets funnier through repetition, the more I saw the nothingness before me, the more I was able to think about something.
It went like this: *Look at nothing* I have no blost ideas *look at nothing* I could write about Jamie *look at nothing* Nah, that’s lame *look at nothing* I could write something contrary *look at nothing* Nah, I do that too much *look at nothing* god there’s nothing here *look at nothing* god I remember when I thought I’d move somewhere cool after college…
And then I got it! What I want to say is this (for those of you who like jumping to bold key terms):
For so much of my time on Earth, I thought happiness was a destination you could run to. If I woke up early enough, ran enough miles, studied enough hours and made enough friends, I would arrive at the place I’d always wanted to be.
I thought I set myself up perfectly, but my consistent lack of satisfaction with my current situation has led me to, what some have called, an “existential break.” And that’s probably true. Like Jack Shephard, I found myself grappling with existing somewhere I knew I crashed into, but didn’t believe could exist.
At the end of the hour’s drive, I met two families. One lost a son 10 years ago in a car accident. They donated five of his organs to a father from the other family, who was dying of cancer. Today, thanks to that son’s death, that father is still alive, and gracious enough to talk to my TV camera.
Afterward I drove back over the same nothingness, only this time it was dark, and I couldn’t see the same nothing I saw before. I was crunched for time and didn’t have the chance to consider my own mortality, but that wasn’t the point of driving through Nowhere and meeting the Everythings.
The point, I’ll venture, is this: The destinations we dream of don’t really exist. What do exist are just other real places, with more real challenges and more awful alarm clocks. The ones we come from are just as valid, even though we might not think so. There’s no point in self-flagellation because you think you got yourself something you don’t “deserve” — that’s a fallacy. You’re just somewhere you don’t quite recognize, and the more you drive through it, the more you’ll realize why you’re there, and the more contented you’ll be when you leave.