Our culture glorifies the road not taken, the uncharted terrain. We are all about the new, the unexplored, the innovative, as if by taking such paths, we will prove our individuality. But for a few moments, I want to glorify the road well-travelled. I believe that’s where we make meaning.
Just this morning, I overheard my co-workers talking about their morning commutes. One said, “You know, I’ve started trying to take new routes to work. But every time I go a different way, I get all turned around.” I’m sure she’s using Waze or some other maddening traffic app, technology that sends you in a direction that other people won’t think to go. I know that for myself, every time I try a work route that’s different from my go-to path, my brain rejects it. It doesn’t fit into my “this is the way to work” schema.
We all have path schemas: this is the way to school, to church, to Little League practice. I think they give us comfort and help us make sense of the world. We can hang substance and memories on the structure they provide.
Sometimes our quotidian paths are the most nostalgic. Because my elementary, middle, and high schools were right next to one another, I took the same route to school for thirteen years. I remember riding in my Dad’s cold, white truck as a kindergartener, scared he was going to spill his coffee without a lid; cruising to and from school listening to the oldies on Fox 97 with my mom; being embarrassed in high school that I couldn’t yet drive myself but appreciating the extra time to take the curlers out of my hair. Year after year, I grew up on that route, riding past the gas station with the good biscuits and my friend Christie’s subdivision.
I shared my school path with an ex-boyfriend once. I was in my mid-twenties; we were on his motorcycle. He seemed less than impressed. I learned then that some paths are sacred, and I should take care when sharing them.
My favorite well-travelled paths are all about who’s waiting for me at the end. To this day, I get a thrill when my family pulls into the town of Oneonta, Alabama. As a kid, turning right at the light meant cousin time at my Aunt Jean and Uncle Mike’s house; turning left meant we were on our way to Granny T’s house—both equally exciting destinations. At Granny T’s funeral, my Uncle George reminded us of how painful it is when you’ve lost the person at the end of your path. As he drove to his hometown the day after her death, it was the first time his mama wasn’t waiting for him. That broke my heart.
Have you ever heard the song “Highway 20 Ride” by Zac Brown? What an agonizing message about paths. Zac Brown sings about sharing custody of his son and the trips he takes picking him up and dropping him off every other Friday: So I’ll drive/And I think about my life/And wonder why/That I slowly die inside/Every time I turn that truck around right at the Georgia line/And I count the days and the miles back home to you on that Highway 20 ride. My whole world, he sings, begins and ends with you. His path, driven with and without his son, symbolizes joy and grief, love and loss. Have a listen to the song; it’s gorgeous.
I’ve got my own Highway 20 ride now. Almost seven years ago, my parents moved from our hometown of Canton, Georgia, to Talladega, Alabama, about a two hour drive going 20 West. At first I was mad at them for moving; I didn’t like the change, and I selfishly felt like they were being disloyal to my understanding of home. Every time I hit the stretch of road under construction at the Alabama line, bumpy as all get out, I cursed their decision. Now I’ve grown to accept that 20 will always be under construction, and I love where they live. I still don’t refer to my drive as “going home,” just “going to Mom and Dad’s house.” I’m giving myself permission to take baby steps.
I have such fond memories of my paths at my Canton home. I think of pattering down the carpeted hallway as a girl to my brother’s room, to look at his books and invade his space; creeping down the front stairs to see what Santa brought; walking almost tiptoe down our steep driveway in summer’s dappled sunshine, scared to death I’d see a snake. Now as an adult, I find that one of my favorite home paths is the trip from the bed to the Keurig. Charm gives way to caffeine addiction, I guess.
As I get older (and act older), I appreciate these well-beaten paths even more. I’ve started to favor the safe and familiar when given a choice. My well-travelled roads have made the most difference in my life, and it’s painful when I no longer make my way down them.
I wonder what paths you take most. They say so much about you. Whether you move down the hall to a sleeping child or down the highway to a distant loved one, may the road rise to meet you.