The Long Road

Sometimes, I see people walking on the road I take to work each day. Not the highway but the road with no markers, signs or road lines. It’s a road that goes for a few miles before turning into a dirt road and it’s the road that carries me home each day. Most people go 50MPH on it. There are no signs and no police but, since it’s lined with houses, I usually go 30MPH. There’s no rush so I just take it easy and that speed has saved me three times from hitting deer that occasionally stop in the road to look around. The people that walk my road are hard to place. We all judge. IT’s in our nature and I judge the people walking. Where are they going? Why are they walking? All I have to go on is their clothes. Those with workout clothes or walking beside a bicycle or with a walking cane must surely be out for a stroll to pass the time or get some exercise. Then, there are people with plain clothes that walk slow and rigid like they have somewhere to be but they’re in no hurry to get there. Those are the people who perplex me the most. 

Today, I creeped up on a man in a white shirt, worn jeans and half-laced boots. He was walking the opposite way and had a clean shave. I stopped to have a conversation. At the very least, I could find out what he thought about the weather. I was hoping for answers.

I slowed and asked where he was headed. “Into town” he said. I said I’m in no rush to get home and was gonna grab some beer anyway so I’ll take him. He looked relieved. Unintentionally, I apologized for how dirty my car was then realized it actually wasn’t dirty but just like my grandmother who apologizes for the lack of food while we sit around a loaded up dinner table, I didn’t really think too much about how dumb that sounded.

“I’ve seen you walking before” I said and that’s when he told me that’s not surprising. It turns out he walks into town every other day for work. His car broke down and the only way to get it fixed is to make money so he has to make it to work some way. We talked about local things, crops, food and the weather. Soon, we were in town and I let him out and gave him my number to call if he ever needed a ride. I gave him my work schedule and maybe we could carpool. Before he left, I asked how many times he gets rides. I was surprised when he said that people pick him up every other time. Twice a week, someone gives him a ride and they’re usually strangers and rarely does the same person give him a ride more than once.

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This got me thinking about life and situations. I have a car. It’s not a great car but it runs well and is in warranty. I can afford insurance and gas for it and it is reliable. It reminds me of the book I’m currently reading, “Man’s Search for Meaning” and the existential vacuum that can form when life ceases to have meaning or when life becomes mundane. The men who had hardship were less likely to suffer from depression than the men who could always rely on things working out. Those that went to work every day, collected a paycheck and paid their bills with little disease, tasks, debt or fears tended to be more dissatisfied with their lives compared to those living paycheck to paycheck with a sick child or, in the book’s example, the people in concentration camps. There is no comparison between the last two examples but are both modern examples of “hardship”.

The man I picked up is always aware that this is the day he may walk 5 miles to work or he may get a ride from a stranger. The fact that his journey to work is unknown makes his day more stressful but it also leads to an overall happiness where you savor life’s small successes. My drive to work is boring. I take the same route, sit in the same traffic and sometimes find myself parking in the same spot. Everyone at my work parks in the same spot every day. The walk this man takes can and will be different each and ever day and, although I would choose not to trade with him, I now recognize that advantages to living a lifestyle of uncertainty.

Sure, we all live a life of uncertainty but it’s different and each of us have our own uncertainties. For example, I know my car will start each morning but I don’t know if I”ll have an accident but, when problems arise so infrequently such as traffic accidents and speeding tickets, the fear of it tends to subside. It’s almost like fearing every day that you’ll get cancer. Very few of us fear that on a daily basis. Modern society has very little that is worth fearing daily. To meet someone who has an unknown in their life that is very transparent and recurring is something you don’t often whiteness. 

I’m still not sure how I feel about it if I had something so uncontrolled in my life each day. You can call me privileged or out of touch but, more of us have lives of certainty (day to day) than lives of uncertainty. IT’s easy to say I may not have a job next month or I may get cancer next year or my car might break down at some point this year but, those are big picture matters of life. To not know if you’ll be walking 10 feet or 5 miles when you leave your house every other day….that’s uncertainty and it sounds both freeing and scary.