Like Jack Kerouac, I have spent most of my life on the road. Unlike him and others of the beat generation, though, I don’t think my journey was seeking something as much as it was getting away from something; away from the stifling confines of small town life. I suppose that means I was really looking for something; vaster mental spaces and a broader social environment than could be found in a town with a population of just over 700. At the time, though, having experienced nothing of the world outside the pages of the books I kept in my bedroom, I could only fantasize, for I had nothing concrete to base my search upon.
Despite the fact that I was looking for nothing, I found much, and learned more.
I really learned a lot about people. Whether they come from small towns like mine, or large metropolises, there are characteristics that are shared by the majority of humankind. Some are positive, some are negative, and some are about as functional as an appendix.
One thing I have observed about most people, regardless of their culture, is that they are amazingly unobservant. In the words of a jungle warfare expert I knew in Vietnam in the 60s, “They never look up.”
I saw this trait demonstrated recently on a flight from Washington (the state) to Washington (the capitol). I watched a woman, who appeared to be in her mid 40s, approach the security checkpoint in the airport. Before the officer could ask for her papers, she asked if the scanner would harm her film.
“Depends on the speed of the film, ma’am,” he said.
“Huh?” she asked.
“What speed is your film?”
“I don’t know,” she responded. “It’s one of those throwaway cameras.”
The security officer asked if he could see the camera, and perhaps he could tell her. While she was rummaging through her luggage for the camera, he asked to see her ID and boarding pass.
“Boarding pass? I need a boarding pass?” she asked. “Where do I get one?”
Now, to be perfectly fair, it was 5 am and most of us had gotten up around 3:30 to get to the airport on time. But, she had passed over 50 people standing in line to get boarding passes to get to security, and she was standing right in front of a three-foot high sign that said, “Please have your ID and Boarding Pass ready to show the TSA officer.” See what I mean? Unobservant.
On the other hand, I’ve learned that people can also be incredibly selfless, kind, and generous. How else do you explain the kid in Vietnam who threw himself on top of a live grenade to save his buddies, at the cost of his own life; or the cops and firemen who ran into the towering infernos that were the Trade Center on 9/11 to try and save people they had never met?
Another thing I’ve learned is this; running from rather than searching for opens up a myriad of possibilities for learning and growth. When you’re looking for something, you just might find it, and then the search is over. When you’re going away from something; especially the feat of being trapped in a life of boring mediocrity, the journey can never end. Every step leads to a new adventure, and every day, you are a different person than you were the day before. You keep moving, you keep changing; and the journey goes on.