One time, when I was 15, my dad and I drove halfway across the country. I have relatives in Arkansas that I saw perhaps once or twice every few years, and this was one of those times. We made this drive often enough that I started to remember the big milestones.
I remember the place along the I-40 with all the cars face-down in the dirt, half-buried with their backsides to the sky. I remember giant fake-dinosaurs, restaurants offering steak-eating challenges, and a giant missile on a Native reservation that advertised fireworks for sale. Those things always excited me when I saw them because they acted as signposts that we were getting closer to the end of the trip, and each milestone heralded our arrival at our destination.
What made this trip more memorable than the others for me was that for the first and only time, it was just me and my dad. The reason for this is lost to my memory, but I remember that it was the longest time I have ever spent with my dad alone. I was a few months away from my 16th birthday, and so I was still getting some driving time under my belt before I took the test that would lead to automotive freedom.
My dad let me drive almost the whole way.
I remember being overwhelmed with appreciation that the man would let me drive. I hadn’t driven very much at home, and whenever I would ask, it seemed like there was always something else he was doing. But now, he let me drive for hours on end. He trusted me to drive the car.
He also trusted me with a few other things on that trip. He trusted me with his thoughts about his own dad. He told me how he never really saw eye to eye with him. He told me that his dad was a hard worker and a good man. He told me that he was as thankful as he could be that his dad lived just long enough to hold me in his arms before he died. And he told me a lot of the things that he wished that he had said to him, but never got a chance to.
I wish we had more time to spend together, dad.
I’m proud of you, dad.
I love you, dad.
That time is burned into my memory. Credence Clearwater Revival was playing on the radio, the faint smell of manure and dust seeped through the window and the look on my dad’s face when he looked at me and smiled, as if to say, “don’t make the same mistake with me that I made with my dad.” After a while, the radio stations lost their signal and I would catch my dad singing softly to himself. I still remember the songs he sang.
Leader of the Band, by Dan Fogelberg.
El Paso, by Marty Robbins.
I never made that drive again. And I haven’t spent that much time with my dad alone since. I don’t remember anything about what we did once we arrived at our relatives’ place. I don’t even remember who all we saw. I do remember the journey, though. I realize that the milestones that were supposed to excite me left me flat. Every milestone I saw on this particular trip didn’t bring joy. It heralded an end to this journey, this conversation with someone that I should know much better than I do.
It makes me wonder. Where else in life do we miss what is important because we are looking too hard to the end? The last time we were with someone who loves us, did we savor that moment, or were we in a hurry? Were we distracted? What about the last time we ate our favorite food? Did we eat fast, racing to the end of the meal? Or did we savor the tastes and the company we were with?
While we spend our limited time on earth, are we busy looking towards the end? To Heaven? To the afterlife? Are all of our efforts, spiritual or otherwise, focused on getting us there at all costs? I wonder if we miss something important about God and about ourselves when we stare too far into the future. Does life now suffer if we don’t savor it because we are too busy reading signposts and milestones? Are we too busy getting ready for the end of life instead of living it?
The trip with my dad seemed long at the time, but it was fleeting. No matter how much I want to go back there, I can’t. Let’s not make the mistake of not really appreciating life as it is happening, because we can’t ever go backwards.
One more thing. If we misread the milestones, if we don’t interpret the signposts responsibly, if we actually get our thinking wrong about the end of the journey, doesn’t that raise really big and important questions about how we might be actually missing the whole point of… well, everything?