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You & The Lonely Road

Niagara Falls

“That path is for/your steps alone.” ~Robert Hunter/Jerry Garcia, ‘Ripple.’

If you’re going to travel alone, you’d better be comfortable with your own company. You and your inner monologue are going to spend a lot of time together. You’re going to think about everything; the hypnotizing effect of the road, the vast green landscape and a sky that seems bigger and closer than you've ever seen before create a stark backdrop for a mind given to wandering.

You talk to the dog; you look forward to simple exchanges with the cashier at the Tim Horton’s when you stop for another coffee, you nod and smile at people as you walk past them at the rest stop, the hotel lobby, the streets of an unfamiliar city. You strike up conversations with strangers at restaurants and bars, with passersby on the street when they offer a smile and their little kids ask if it's ok to pet your dog. Yet you’re alone. All the time. You're the perpetual stranger.

Living alone isn’t the same. At home, there’s a routine. You walk the neighborhood every day, you see friends, you work, you go out. There’s a quiet rhythm to it, a marching cadence of familiarity. Loneliness at home is different.

On the road, you’re a stranger everywhere you go. You wake up in a different bed in a different city every morning, and it takes you a few seconds to remember where you are. You live out of a backpack and a small suitcase, packing and unpacking every day. You learn to get more efficient with this, to bring only the absolute essentials with you.

When you drive, you listen to more talk radio than ever before, trying to stay connected to a world that seems more chaotic and insane than ever. You listen to hear another voice, to distract you from the one on your head for a little while.

You think about the past, about the chapters now closed and the regrets you carry with you like ghost luggage. You think about your exes, from S to E to C. Especially C. You think about what could have been with any of them, imagining various scenarios of gaiety and romance, of a depth of love that doesn’t truly exist in this temporal world. Sometimes it makes you smile, thinking about the good times, those moments when you were so overcome with joy, with happiness, with pure love. Other times, you blame the wind for the tears in your eyes.

You think about your father laying in a hospital bed in his living room, dying slowly. You think about how his life was over two years before he died and how near the end, he looked at you in one of his final moments of lucidity and in a quivering voice, said “I did the best I could.”

You think about what’s next, what comes after this journey. You feel overwhelmed with unanswered questions. You're 45, you've had three distinct careers so far and in the initial phase of yet another reinvention, the full picture of which remains elusive. You want to shape the rest of your life, yet you're acutely aware that you can only shape today, and perhaps tomorrow.

You feel yourself changing already, growing comfortable with discomfiture, with being alone in unfamiliar territory day after day, more present than ever. You start to suspect that there’s a journey underway that’s far deeper than the miles you’re traveling and you just have to trust that it’s leading you somewhere better than the place you started from.

On my deathbed, I want to be able to say “I did the best I could” and mean it.

I’m doing the best I can, right now.

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