When the weather is nice I like to go on long drives. I roll down my windows, shuffle a playlist titled 6:30 p.m., and drive for as long as I can. My parents despise this hobby of mine, claiming that taking long drives alone as a twenty-year-old woman is a sure-fire way to get yourself into trouble, but I don't care, driving is good for me.
A few months ago I was on my way downtown to search for a coffee shop to write in when I felt the familiar urge to keep driving. Turning a blind eye to my chronic habit of wasting available productivity time, I passed the first turn off into town. A quarter-mile later, I passed the second turn off, and very shortly the third and fourth. At this point, I knew myself well enough to understand I would not be making it into town for a while, and that was okay. The windows came down, the playlist was shuffled, and I was off into the desolate, pale yellow expanses of Texas, for lack of a better phrase, without a trace.
There is a moment in every drive, no matter the location or the hour, where I would give absolutely anything to be able to look at myself from the backseat and take a photo of the scene in front of the windshield. The moment on this particular drive was characterized by an incredibly charming bridge of trees doing their best to highlight the stark urban-rural divide on the edge of town.
On this boundary, what seemed like hundreds of slender cedar elm trees grew on either side of the road, forming a sweeping mile-long tunnel that gently framed the road and sky. It was the fourth of November, which meant the elms had finally begun their gentle descent into a deep scarlet, alerting passerby of the arrival of an overdue Texas fall. The leaves were the lightest of oranges on either side of the tunnel, creating a vibrant panoramic view when set against the cloudless, cornflower blue sky. At that moment I wished for just a second to be an outsider observing my own life. I fought the urge to record a video beneath the tree tunnel, forcing myself to sit within the moment and experience it fully and sentiently, rather than trying to document it.
Wistfully emerging from the tunnel's far side, I allowed myself to get lost in the Texas backroads. I drove past field after field of paunchy black Angus cattle, grazing and sleeping like they were getting paid, every so often passing an abandoned grain silo or an old house, each one seeming to cry out in dilapidation.
I thought about all of the things these houses had laid their hazy windowed eyes on in their fifty-odd years, completely stationary as the world around them altered and shifted. I thought of all the residents that had come and go, the countless spring thunderstorms that rattled their shutters, and the harshly cold winter winds that had eaten away at the paint. I thought about all of the firsts the houses had looked upon, the first words, first kisses, first fights. Also the lasts, the last goodbyes, the last meals, the last hugs.
These crumbling stand-alone houses, the sole edifices giving dimension to the plainly flat west Texas topography told the true, undoctored story of the land.
Studying the old houses reminded me of a statement I picked up in the throws of coffee shop conversation just a week earlier. Just as each of those houses had its own story, "everyone you encounter has a life as complex and multidimensional as your own". To me, this simple statement excellently iterated a notion that we often forget, that we are only the main character of our own story and there are seven billion other stories occurring alongside our own.
More intimately, it reminds us that every human being has their own needs, desires, innermost thoughts, and struggles. They have their own favorite song that they listen to on hard days, a favorite place to go when they need to think, a favorite snack to eat with their friends, and a favorite holiday to spend however they see fit. Have you ever been driving on the highway and become slightly unsettled knowing that every person you see driving next to or across from you is someone you'll most likely never see again? Each one with his or her own story, one that you probably won't ever hear.
Moments like these can make the world feel like a place that is incredibly overwhelming and isolating, where there are billions of people we will never know, and billions of stories we will never get to hear or know the true meaning behind.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, because we can use this understanding to our benefit. Taking a second to remember how complex and intricate everyone's lives are can remarkably unify and humanize people. It can be painfully easy to make snap judgments about others while looking out the car window or by focusing solely on how people in your life have made you feel or impacted you.
Consider for a moment that they are busy being their own main character and carrying their own burdens just like you. This will make it profoundly easier to give grace when people don't live up to your expectations. This consideration can also drastically lessen the negative impact unpleasant experiences have on your psyche.
After realizing that most people's behavior has nothing to do with you or your decisions, you are free to do and think whatever you please and that is what sets you free. Wear the bold shirt, talk to the cute boy or girl you've been eyeing on the bus, ask for the promotion, get out of your comfort zone because no one is watching you anyway.
Along those same lines, when you are faced with an overwhelming challenge it is so easy to feel as though the world is crashing down around you, and yet no matter what occurs in your life others will just continue to drive along in regular human fashion.
I made the final turn back toward town and the huge stack of work I had accumulated, and I realized I was returning with a renewed sense of freedom and a reminder of my humanity that I lacked when the drive began.
Now that you hopefully have a new perspective, I hope you take a chance and try something new, that you treat others with the respect and kindness every human deserves, and that you remember to take a drive sometimes.
Who knows what it could teach you.