Dr. Norris Frederick
I’ve been traveling down interstates 77 and 81 for about 3 hours, and the roar of trucks going 75 mph is getting to me. I’m on the way to the Virginia mountains in the fall of 2017 for a hike. As I take a rest stop break near Roanoke, I look at the map and see what looks like good roads that will get me off the interstate NOW. I can’t wait to start this journey through the back roads.
I’m exhilarated as I leave I-81 and get on route 311, a nice two-lane with newly painted white stripes dividing the road. The quiet, the clear view of nearby grass and trees in sight as I travel at 45 mph instead of 70 on the barren interstate. How wonderful it is to take the back roads! I sigh with relaxation and happiness.
Then things begin to change. After a short while my route takes a right, and I notice that there is no center line at all. The road takes sharp turns first to the left, then back again to the right. I pass through the small town of New Castle, which amazingly has a Subway, and I consider stopping. But I’m already behind schedule to meet my friend, so I keep on driving, munching on trail-mix. As I leave the town, I get behind a car creeping along, and I’m very frustrated.
Twenty minutes later I’m driving through a forest. It’s suddenly become rather dark, and the GPS signal has disappeared. There’s a “Road Narrows” sign, and after the road indeed does narrow there is a “Narrow Bridge” sign. After a while comes another tiny bridge, this time without any warning sign. Then the road narrows again until I think that surely I am driving in someone’s driveway, just big enough for one car.
Why did I come on this stupid journey? Impulsiveness? A lack of persistence, when my destination was clear on well-marked roads?
In a period of about 90 minutes, the frame with which I was understanding and feeling the drive changed dramatically. What I originally framed as an exciting and meaningful “journey” was unconsciously primed by my perceptions of the growing dark and the narrowing, unmarked, and unsigned road to an experience of being endangered or lost. I felt a bit like cattle being herded into a dead-end canyon. I wanted OUT OF THERE!
Not unlike this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic: isolation anxiety, boredom — we want OUT OF HERE!
The idea that my life, my year, or my day is “a journey” is a powerful metaphor. “Journey” and “journal” come from the same Old French and Latin roots for “day,” the former meaning a day’s travel or work, the latter meaning a daily record. Unlike “trip,” “journey” implies a travel of considerable distance, and by implication, I think, “journey” also implies meaningful travel, just as a journal is an effort to record meaning in one’s life.
Every physical journey has an inward side, the awareness and state of consciousness of the person on the journey. Too often we are like me on the back roads of the Virginia mountain. We experience boredom, then excitement as the journey commences, followed soon by fear and worry – of being lost or late, or not achieving goals, or some possible future event.
As it turned out, I wasn’t lost on that journey on the back roads. Despite my needless worry, my journey was as worthwhile as my destination.
Here is a video snippet from the hiking journey:
The journey through the pandemic this year has not been a pretty one. In the U.S.A. alone, over three hundred thousand have died, millions have lost their jobs and insurance, and people of color, the poor, and the elderly have been especially vulnerable. Almost everyone has lived in some state of fear. It truly has been a strange year. If we and our families are safe and we still have our homes and incomes, we know we are among the fortunate, no matter what challenges we have faced. Now there is the hope offered by the vaccines.
Every year – especially this year – we wait for the new year and for some transforming event for the journey to begin. We don’t see what is right in front of us. In that waiting and not seeing, we miss our lives. As Aileen and Elkin Thomas sing so beautifully in their song “The Journey” (click to listen), the journey’s all the time:
“Of all the time and space our lives have occupied,
Right now is where we’ve come to be,
The journey’s not what’s going to be,
The journey’s all the time,
The journey’s all the time.”
Every day and every hour offer us possibilities. If we are aware of what is unconsciously priming our experience, we have a better chance of consciously framing that experience in a way that is both more workable and meaningful. We need to train ourselves to do that, but awareness is the first step.
May your journey in 2021 be a meaningful one.
This is a revised and expanded version of an essay I posted several years ago.
 Webster’s New World Dictionary, College Edition (The World Publishing Company, 1960).
Video by Norris Frederick