Driving. I know, I know, I’m obsessed with driving.
In my books, my characters are always driving somewhere. I just can’t help it. It’s what happens when you’re from Texas and you get your driver’s license at an insanely young age and you were practically born in a car. Hell, the truth is, you were probably conceived in a car, too, just like Elaine Robinson in The Graduate.
Driving is freedom, exploration, power, identity. That’s true till your kids hit a certain age and you become their chauffeur; after that, driving is sheer drudgery and carpools are hell on wheels. But hey, at least you’re still the one driving, the one who’s ostensibly in control.
I remember the first time my husband and I were relegated to the backseat of the car, facing the backs of our kids’ heads as they drove us somewhere. It happened ten or so years ago and it was terrifying. It also changed everything — or maybe it just symbolized the way everything was changing with the four of us. Anyway, nothing’s ever quite been the same since.
This year, the four of us spent the holidays in Northern California, driving a friend’s car. Since our daughter lives there, she knows where she’s going and either drove herself or instructed the driver. For the most part, my husband and I sat in the backseat, relieved not to have to drive ourselves.
Getting older often makes me think of developing a view from a higher point. You simply see more. Sometimes, from this vantage point, I even imagine I can see the curve of the earth.
But, more than anything, what I think I see is a cycle as enormous as any ferris wheel, creaking along slowly and inexorably. We’re all born on that cycle, but we never realize it till we get older. While young, we think our trajectory will only continue in a certain direction — upward, higher, better. With age, we see something else — an easing into a decline, sure — but also the sense of ourselves as following where our parents, grandparents and more distant ancestors have gone before us. We’re also making way for those behind us.
Maybe this is what I’m trying to say: We’re not as different or as separate as we think when we’re young. We’re all part of an immense continuum. Like many of the other bits and pieces of wisdom in my life, I figured this out in a car. When you’re in the backseat, you have more time to think.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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