At least once in your life you’ll be on a long car ride on the highway, thinking to yourself, or better yet, saying out loud, “Are we there yet?” Car rides have that effect—as humans, we are impatient and want to get from one place to the next as quickly as possible. I recently had a long road trip like that, where towards the end I too was asking myself, “Am I there yet?” Yet, examining that phrase, there is so much to the highway and to road trips that we don’t even recognize, yet that is, quite simply, amazing.
“Are we there yet?” The answer is never yes or no. You might be close to a destination, but you’re never truly at the destination. Because the beauty of the highway is that it is a connection. It is a never-ending loop (yes, filled with dead ends and many toll booths) that can bring you anywhere you want, if only you navigate it. You can intend to take a 20 minute journey to the mall, and simply choose to keep on going right to New York City. Or stay on the road and end up in Florida, or Minnesota, middle-of-nowhere South Dakota, or West Coast California. When you think about it, a highway can take you anywhere, and can connect you to any place, person, or experience you want.
For me, there are two words to summarize this notion: freedom and potential.
First, freedom. There’s just something about a car, a road, and your navigation that embodies the very essence of freedom. You are in control of a vehicle, and of your moving self, and, no pun intended, “Are the driver” to your destination. The choices that you make will take you one way or take you the other. A left turn can send you to a city that’s larger than life, or a right turn at the same crossroads to a town of 300 people. The choice that you make is the sole determinant of where you end up, as the road is just the means of transport that your car travels along. The car is the vehicle of your freedom and the manner in which you exercise that power. It is controllable and manageable, and will trustingly travel along bumps and railroad tracks, or detours along the way, to take you freely into the future by following the highway which has been laid out.
Second, potential. The highway is a network of potential, with new opportunities and chances literally and figuratively at every turn. To know that one road, to one close-by destination, can also lead far away to an entirely different part of the country is something impossibly mind-blowing and difficult to wrap my brain around. There is the potential to unlock new opportunities, open new doors, and navigate new roads just by simply following a road sign.
That’s why I love the signs on the highway; they look into the future, yet give concrete answers. Even though you may be 300 miles away from Los Angeles, the signs advertising it begin anyways, promising a destination and a hope for the future. They also promise reassurance, that even after a long journey with many confusing loops and jug-handles, staying on the road and following the path will ultimately take you somewhere you want to go, and further if you so desire.
Roads, too, never change. There is no Harry Potter shifting staircase to confuse the traveler, just sturdy metal signs guiding one where they desire. The highway is strong and steadfast, yet at the same time exhilarating because it holds the potential for so much adventure.
It also holds the potential for so much connection. Just as a cell-phone can reach anyone in the world, a highway connects the nation together. Simple blacktop and yellow lines lead from one place to another, intersecting at times and breaking apart at others, but eventually always meeting up again. They are a visual representation of the community of people we are as a nation, coming from every place imaginable, yet still connected because we are, simply, human.
Traveling the highway that is our lives, we can rely on those ideas of freedom, potential, and human connectedness. We are free, as our own beings, to make choices and take turns that we control to shape our destinies. Our final destination comes from a place of freedom, where what we picked and the forks we stopped at led us to our current place, and will lead us further into the unknown future. We have our whole lives in front of us, with goals and ambitions flashing their road signs long before we arrive at them. The potential is there to follow the signs and move through the highway with a purpose set long before we knew there was one, yet with so many exits and opportunities to always try a new route if the first doesn’t work out. Ultimately, we arrive at our destinations after a journey that we won’t forget—one that is uniquely our own. We arrive not alone, but connected by all of the other paths we crossed on the way and the highways that, despite our passing through them, still remain for others to follow if they so choose, to lead each person along their way.
Just following the highway of life, one doesn’t need to know the future plans for 10 years, 20, or even as short as the next 4. One just has to know that adventure will happen, and that highways exist for each choice one makes. There are no wrong choices, only opportunities. In the words of Henri Amiel, “The best path through life is the highway.”