Think back to 3rd grade. Your teacher is droning on and on at the front of the room, occasionally snapping her wooden pointer onto the map spread across the whiteboard. Time slips by, a fly catches your attention. You are captivated by its valiant fight for freedom, its tiny little wings buzzing against the glass, its shadow a dancing dot on the windowsill as the sun marches towards four o’ clock and freedom. Silently you cheer for the incarcerated insect. It’s almost as if when that little antennaed solider finds his way out, a piece of you will be set free along with it. That with a simple bugs victory lies a truer, deeper meaning resonates within the very fiber of your being. You really should have payed more attention to US geography.
You see, it is my theory that within the structure of the United States lies the roadmap to our lives. Join me on this journey as we roadtrip through this beautiful country, and our very existence.
The dawn of our lives begins (where else?) on the east coast. Not in Maine, the easternmost point, as you may assume, but farther south, in Florida. Why, you ask? Simple. The first defining moment of our lives is the assignment of our biological sex and Florida is what makes the United States a man. The first few months of our lives are spent on the beach, the world is filled with bright lights and noises. There are these things that swoop out of the sky, take your food and attack your face. You mostly just lay around, walking is way harder than anyone realizes, and it doesn’t really matter where you poop.
Then we cross the state lines and head to the south eastern states. As you age you begin to explore. The great outdoors is a mystery to you, bugs are enthralling, birds are magical and dirt is just about the best thing ever. Welcome to the Smoky Mountains. As young children we can all agree splashing through streams and puddles are all you can ask for in life. We flit fancifully to and fro, high as a kite (metaphorically) and happy as a lamb. Baby animals are the cutest species to ever be created and every day is an exciting new adventure.
Sadly, however, we must continue north. We leave the sheltering woods and emerge into the beginnings of the historic cities. We learn about history and government, the arts, scientific research and literature. Washington DC utterly awes us with the incredible wealth of knowledge high school and college have to offer us. Along the way we learn to drive, and to DD (sometimes), exploring every aspect of this vast new city. Finally, armed with what knowledge our elders saw fit to bestow on us combined what we undertook ourselves to discover, we emerge from the capitol and head to our jobs, the big cities.
In the next part of our lives, many of us are too busy looking at where we are going to notice the majesty around us. Long hours at work, striving to become a successful member of society, a thousand worries and goals keep our heads bowed, glowering at our feet as we rush from place to place. Stop! Look around! Take in the beauty of Old Boston, the Chesapeake Bay, Times Square. Occasionally even remember the innocence of youth in an activity we love, take a “weekend trip to the Appalachians of our early days” on our road trip across America.
After a while most of us will calm down. On our road trip we hop in the station wagon and head to the midwest, the heartland of the US. In our middle age we focus on our family, PTA meetings and school plays. Dad is a weekend warrior, and mom, well she probably is too.
Eventually the kids grow up and we find ourselves in the western states, but not yet the cool ones. We are boring and we are bored. We’ve been doing the same job for years, and will be for years to come. Our bodies begin to betray us and those weekend warrior games become few and far between. And that’s why…
VEGAS BABY! Hello midlife crises. Some will find new hobbies — on their road trip they’ll see the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, The Rockies, Yellowstone or Roswell, New Mexico. Others will go off the deep end for a bit, spend way too much in Vegas and leave their late middle years with less dignity, cash, and perhaps fewer close personal relationships. But all is not lost! For those of us who headed on other routes, or simply went to Vegas for the great lobster, this is another time of great exploration. The kids have grown up and we are free to spend their inheritance as we see fit, to ensure they make something of themselves, of course.
After the peaks of the Rockies we continue west into our retirement. Some will get depressed — their map led them to Seattle. Others will become downright weird — hello Portland. For most of us, we will end up in a place very similar to where we started, except this time we lay peacefully on the beach watching the sun set. The same bright lights and loud noises greet you on occasion. Once again, it gets hard to walk, things keep swooping by to see you, and it doesn’t much matter where you poop. The difference is this: you have a fantastic journey behind you. A life well and truly lived. You have made it up the east coast from Florida, and across the entirety of the United States. Sure you may have run out of gas a few times and got lost a few more, but that’s half the fun. What’s the point of a journey without a few stories?
You are content, you made it.
If you’re looking for more wise, motivational and feel-good words of wisdom from Matt Brown, read his Ode to a Boombox.
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