As I’m packing for our 25-day cross country adventure, I keep remembering my father’s words of wisdom about travel: a trip can’t really be enjoyed until it’s over.
Not until the car is safely back in the driveway can you take a moment to consider how good it all really was. The engine didn’t blow. No one ended up in the hospital. The house is still standing.
I watched too much news as a child. WAY too much. I’m only in my 30’s, but I remember Watergate, the Symbionese Liberation Army’s abduction of Patty Hearst, and Betty Ford’s breast cancer. These are not things I should know anything about, as I was about 3 when I watched Walter Cronkite’s reports of said events on the evening news.
My father was a newscaster. Current events, therefore, were not only prominently considered within our home, they were also employed to instill the “think twice” maxim into me and my sister.
“Girls,” my father would begin somberly when my sister and I sought permission to do some seemingly routine activity like, say, make toast. “I know it seems that there isn’t much that can go wrong making toast, but I’m sure that’s exactly what Bill Doe thought last week when he went to the corner market to pick up a loaf of bread.”
We’d listen in grave silence as dad recounted Bill Doe’s sad fate, typically a mugging, decapitation or comparable act of wonton violence.
We responded with the dichotomy of emotions that is trademark adolescence—first we’d scoff, then we’d wonder: what if he’s right? What if the world really is a place of limitless danger and senseless violence?
One of my favorite films is a short by director Sarah Watt entitled “Living With Happiness.” It depicts a woman not unlike me who goes through a completely routine morning with her family—making toast and the like—but scenes rapidly shift from mundane reality to images of the protagonist’s morbid fears of the dangers lurking just beneath the surface. As I recall, the toaster goes on the fritz and electrocutes the family. The movie ends when the woman heads to the beach in an attempt at serenity only to get sucked up by a rip tide and rescued by a surfer boy who tells her that the key to surfing—and by extension, life—is “not to panic.”
This, my friends, is the mission on which I am determined to embark throughout our travels. I’ve examined the risks head on. There’s no guarantee that we won’t fall victim to danger on the highway. We could enter Area 51 in Nevada and simply disappear. Why, just yesterday, my sister spotted a grave warning in one of my travel magazines informing us that the Merced, a river we expect to encounter in Yosemite National Park, is, in all actuality, an “unlikely killer.”
On the home front, our house could burn down, our pets could ail, and storms could topple the large pine in front of the house and collapse the roof.
A simple perusal of the morning newspaper is the only warning one needs to understand that life is a risky proposition. It’s a mixed bag of horror out there. Accidents, cancer, poverty, crime, even bread muggings. There’s an endless range of potential disaster lurking under the surface of so-called normal living.
But you know what—if I’m destined to become someone’s screaming headlines object lesson, I’ve determined to enjoy every minute I can along the way.