“It would be an almost perfect love affair, wouldn’t it? that between the pilgrim and the road.” –Anne Carson in Plainwater
People ask questions to break the ice at each oasis: where are you headed? where are you from? how long have you been on the road?
I tell them enough to satisfy them, and they smile, walk their dogs, smoke cigarettes, and buy Mars Bars out of the vending machines.
There are no true answers to ice-breaker questions other than “I may never know.” I see no relevance in time and distance, much less destinations.
The only true question on my mind as the everlasting highway appears to move beneath my feet is: “Have you heard it, the song you came here to sing?”
When I was young, I thought I might find that song with an outline, a diploma, a resume, a plan, a to-do list, a bank account, an organizational chart, a diagrammed sentence, a plot, a theme, or a personal mission statement.
As I grew older, I thought I might find that song by searching through the past, remembering old friends, reading history, reading the saved Christmas letters, pondering photo albums, and telling yarns about bittersweet experiences where the answers to life’s questions and the music that went with them were sure to be hidden.
As a Boy Scout, I was taught to be prepared, to be ready for whatever might happen, to know how to answer questions like “What would you do if you had one day to live, had the winning lottery ticket, found yourself stranded on a tropical island with a movie star, woke up in bed with a dead person, became President of the United States, won the Nobel Prize? Readiness was closer to God than cleanliness, we were promised, and so I must always be ready to discover the song I came here to sing. Lest I miss it.
Sweet highway, my real lover, always there, always unfolding–in time, such as it was, I began to ignore the mileage signs, distances to towns and landmarks and goals; I began to ignore the billboards promising me fresh peaches and hookers and carnival rides and satin sheets and steak and liquor at the next exit or the one after that.
I still haven’t figured anything out.
In loving the road, I believe the next step is the only step and that every time I stumble and fall and find the strength to pick myself up and see that I am still alive, that’s when I hear the song I came to sing.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Malcolm R. Campbell