While driving recently, I was surprised by the digital odometer on my dashboard informing me that I had only “110 Miles to E,” which was the equivalent of a quarter of a tank of gas. I could have sworn that I’d just filled it up. Shortly thereafter, it updated, “109 Miles to E” then “108,” then “107” and so on. The literature teacher in me couldn’t help but to recognize the metaphorical significance of the moment. The universe was talking to me, and my similarly past-its-prime Ford Taurus was the vehicle through which the universe was sending me a wake-up-and-live call.
Having just celebrated my 59th birthday and begun my 60th year on this planet, I began to question how I should respond to such a warning from the universe. In one of those too-apropos-to-be-coincidental moments, as I sat calculating that, if I’m lucky, I have about a quarter of my life yet in front of me, Keith Urban’s song “Days Go By” queued up on my shuffled playlist of random songs, and the lyric “It’s all we been given, so you better start living right now” — with “right now” meaning both immediately and correctly — poured through the car’s speakers.
My first thought was “Okay, where would I choose to actually go if I was suddenly granted only 110 ‘miles before I sleep’?” Of course, the work-a-round answer would be to save the miles, go nowhere, employ a “four corners” offense, park the car in the garage, and let the world come to me. That, however, almost immediately lost its appeal as I realized that the world wouldn’t “come to me.” In fact, it would quite quickly forget I even existed as it went about its own task of existence. I would devolve into a passive observer apart from the world rather than a part of it. Such a hermitage is no way to live whether one’s tank is full or nearing empty. It would be what the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described as a “life-in-death,” and dying ain’t no way to live.
I concluded that my 110 travel miles would be spent exactly how I’m spending them now: almost always, with my wife riding shotgun or taking a turn at the wheel while I try my best to take a good look at and to savor the beauty of both the natural and manmade world. Most of those miles would entail driving to be with family members, to drink coffee or beers and talk, laugh, and reminisce with friends, to play a couple of sets with my tennis buddies, and to help at OhGo’s biweekly mobile food pantries, where I’m an insignificant contributor to the efforts of people much better than me who are doing good work, donating their time and muscle — because none of us have much else to give — for goodness’s sake, not to see their names listed on a donors page or to pad their resume for heavenly admittance. Such are the people and activities that bring me the greatest joy as these “days go by,” and as my life-force tank empties, they will continue to fill my soul tank.
What I would try my hardest to avoid doing with my “110 miles to E” is to make wasted trips to any place, person, or activity that might bore, frustrate, or anger me. I would devote nothing to mean spirited, close minded, and/or intolerant people; instead, I’d even gladly burn a little extra gas to go around them. The fuel and time left is too precious to spend on such life-draining folks, experiences, and/or emotions.
Although it may seem like you just filled the tank, be sure to check your odometer because “days go by,” and life is a one tank trip.
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