When I was a teenager we used to drive the back roads at night. Nice and slow, listening to country gold. There was no reason to be in any kind of hurry because we were merely waiting. We were always waiting. Finding things to occupy our time while we waited for life to come to us. While we waited for eighteen years old. While we waited for Marine Corps boot camp. While we waited for college. Always looking forward.
Now in my thirties I never feel like I’m waiting on anything. I’m always moving toward something. I’m always trying to make something happen. Sure, that’s worked out for me so far but it feeds a sense of nostalgia for a more simplistic time when I had the luxury of simply waiting.
Rolling along those gravel roads never felt like a waste of time. It never felt like I was missing an opportunity. It was merely an activity to keep me occupied. Something to do while adult life slowly worked its way to me. Now, for better or worse, I feel as though everything I move toward only takes me farther away from an ability or the opportunity to guiltlessly preoccupy myself. I haven’t found a replacement for the slow drive on the dirt road.
I still take the time to drive and I make a great effort to enjoy it. But that’s the problem. I make that great effort because I have learned that inevitable lesson: enjoy it while you can, it won’t last forever. Interestingly, I find it’s the ignorance that actually makes the memories seem so precious. I knew it would end, but I didn’t dread it. There was no anxiety of the simple life ending. That’s why I look back on drives that I took sixteen years ago rather than the drive I took this last Sunday. It meant something different. I just didn’t know it at the time.
As a parent I feel the urge to tell my kids things like “enjoy it while you can,” or “these will likely be some of the best times of your life.” What good would that do? They won’t be able to truly understand that until these days are just fond memories of long ago. That’s when their real value becomes evident. Maybe that lesson turns out to be a double edged sword when one reaches retirement. You may work for years and years looking forward to retirement only to end up spending the rest of your life looking back. After all, regardless of how fruitful retirement is or isn’t, we aren’t necessarily going to be looking forward to what’s at the end of that road.
The Dirt Road
written by Coty Davis