Apologies to Tom Cochrane and his 1991 song, but I sometimes hate driving. I am especially not a fan of highway driving. Any traveler along the Northeast corridor is well aware of that seemingly never ending roadway which stretches on for hours, known as the New Jersey Turnpike. For such a small state, how can traversing it take so long? Your eyes keep searching for the end but it never seems to appear. Then, glowing in the distance, you can see the lights of the bridge. Going south, it is the Delaware Memorial, going north, it is George Washington, but in either case, it means you are nearing the end of the road. However, the bridge is only part of the journey which, once crossed, just continues on the other side. So my journey continues, and as a 21st century Robert Frost, I say to myself that I “have miles to go before I sleep” (Smith, 1995).
I use this analogy with my patients, and while I wish it was an original thought, I need to give credit to some wise sage whose name is now lost to me. Of course, the poet Robert Frost’s words speak to us across the centuries, as the challenges of the author’s days are similar to our own. We are living in a post pandemic world, faced with stumbling economies, addiction, racism, a rising mental health crisis, and the ever looming storm clouds of war; not unlike the world of 1922 when Frost penned his poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. We are all driving on this highway we call life. Frost reminds us that sometimes we just need to pull over and enjoy the scenery. However, if we perceive our world as filled with negativity, hate and despair, who wants to pull over? We just lock our doors, roll up the windows and keep driving.
Of course, your future is in front of you. Like the glow of the bridge lights, you have a destination, an objective, the final stop to the trip when you can park the car, get out and rest. However, we often are too focused on the big picture, the end game, forgetting the little things. I have found that many of us, myself included, tend to focus on tomorrow, or next week, or next year. A patient told me once that the guy who has the most toys when he dies, wins the game of life. We all tend to rush to get to the final destination, to drive quickly past all the bad communities, the boring landscapes, and the empty roadway, only to surround ourselves with material goods and meaningless experiences. However, sometimes it is within these unattractive, perhaps ugly places, where one can find meaning. I must remind myself that if Viktor Frankl can find meaning in the hell of a concentration camp, who am I to ignore the challenges of our own world?
So while I remain focused on my trip, I have decided to never have a final destination. Instead, I look at my road trip as a never ending journey with lots of rest stops and roadside attractions. Some are better than others, but they all have meaning. Instead of picking up some cheap trinkets or souvenirs, I leave each stop with new experiences. In the end, I might not have any toys, but I have lived a life worth living. So I might not like driving, I do enjoy searching for meaning. “And I have miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep” (Smith, 1995).
Christopher Keenan, MS LPCA LADC
Accredited Member of the International Association of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis
Chris is the program director of the MCCA McDonough House, a residential dual diagnosis adult treatment program in Danbury CT, and an adjunct professor of human services at SNHU.
Smith, P. (1995). 100 best-loved poems. Dover Publications.