“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike”~Maya Angelou.
Before my family moved to Jamaica, our annual vacations began with a road trip. My parents would pack up whatever old jalopy we owned (one was the ‘orange monster’!) with camping gear, supplies for a month, and five kids. The journey was made slightly more tolerable by the fact that it often was done overnight, so that hopefully the kids would fall asleep and stop squabbling, allowing my father to focus on the winding roads that carried us from the city of Manchester, through the mountains of Snowdonia, to the idyllic camping ground (a field, really) by the sea. Idyllic scenery guaranteed, inclement and unpredictable weather also guaranteed. One of the first practical tips I learnt: never touch the inside of a canvas tent when it is raining. It breaks the waterproof barrier and lets in a deluge! (Believe me, you will learn that lesson quickly!)
I have always loved a road trip, though the surprises are not always pleasant. The roads of Jamaica (pre highways and toll roads and bypasses) were winding, full of potholes and there was always the possibility of a broken down truck blocking the road. A day’s outing to the beach seemed to take all day to get there! Or the car you were in might break down. And in an era before cell phones, with no AAA or roadside assistance, you relied on the assistance of people passing on the roadside, who would know somebody who…and before you knew it a host of capable and innovative young men would be performing miracles with nothing more than a dirty rag and a hammer! Or so it seemed.
If you are going to break down anywhere, Jamaica is one place to do it. In the country strangers are greeted with curiosity (and because Jamaicans, especially country people, have manners, you will be greeted, not ignored) but also treated with kindness and offers of fruit, drinks, and other refreshments. For most Jamaicans who live ‘in town’, a return to the country means that their family will fill their trunk with ‘food’ for their return. Yam, green banana, plantain, whatever fruits are in season, will be brought freshly cut to the vehicle. Even if your visit was unexpected.
In my family, road trips with a purpose become an end in themselves; an opportunity to get away from the routines of everyday life and share stories, eat junky snacks, and listen to good music. I recently traveled from Columbus Ohio to South Florida by way of West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, North and South Carolina and Georgia. We drove along the Lonesome Pine Trail, traversed the Appalachians, and saw some wondrous scenery. The road was very winding as it braided its way through the hilly terrain. We stopped in Charleston, WV, where I texted my daughter (in case anything happened to us – you never know!). Thanks to the mountains, telephone and internet service were so inconsistent that we were removed from the incessant chatter of the world.
I have often seen the journey of life as a road trip, an adventure. Unlike a normal road trip, we have no idea of when we will reach our destination or indeed where the road will take us. There may be many breakdowns, many wrong turns, forks in the road when we have no idea which road to take. As we journey along the road we may meet all manner of people, some of whom will travel with us for a while, some we may never see again. But there is not one of us who is not also on their own road trip. And not one of us can escape the final destination.
I have been reminded recently of this finality of our options. In the comic strip Peanuts, the dog Snoopy once wrote a novel. He struggled and struggled and finally it was done: ‘A man was born. He lived and he died. The end.’ When you think about it, that pretty much encapsulates reality for every human being on the face of the earth. In a world which seems to build its reality on status, on possessions, on abilities, on superiority, there is no escaping our common life sentence. We should not be confused about this.
At one of the many funerals I have attended recently I had a beautiful personal reminder of how alike we are. As the chapel filled up, extra seats were placed in the aisle, one next to the end of the pew where I sat. Along came these two young girls, and one (about ten years old) sat beside me. As I smiled at her I realized she was wearing the same dress as me! Well not exactly; the style was different, but the color and type of material were very similar. ‘Look!’ I whispered to her, ‘same frock!’ Later she whispered to me ‘What’s your name?’ We bonded in that moment, over a piece of electric blue material. We are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.
When we keep in mind this fact, that life is finite, that every moment is precious, it means that we must savor the good along with the bad. We can consciously choose to look for the bright side in adversity; we can choose to be happy. We can look for the similarities between us, rather than emphasize our differences. We can give others the benefit of the doubt, rather than choosing to take offence at perceived slights. We can be generous to those who appear to be struggling, for next time it might be me who needs a hand, or help with a broken down car.
Have a fantastic weekend Family! Remember to celebrate the small as well as the large events, and to take advantage of opportunities to tell others what they mean to us, for all you know, you may not have another chance. Back in South Florida we are looking forward to Labor Day Weekend (and weather doesn’t scare us, it just makes things more interesting!) and our annual CC Family Reunion! Road trip, Baby!