Life

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between our steps 04 29 20 double
"Are we there yet?" is a constant question from the back seat of the car. As children on a road trip, we asked this. With our kids in the back seat, we had to address this question. The young child leaving on a trip is bored in the car, ready to arrive. They are focussed on the destination.

When we moved to Kitchener, we went back to Oakville every Sunday to have lunch with my dad's dad. I am sure my brother and I asked "Are we there yet?" as we loved the grilled cheese sandwiches he always made.

After a while, because the trip was the same each week, we got to know the landmarks. There was a service station about half way on both sides of the highway. Sometimes on the way back home, we would stop at this restaurant for a butterscotch sunday. When we passed the majestic outcrop of rock called Rattlesnake Point, we knew we were near. We did not have to ask.

On rare visits to London to visit other family, we did not know the landmarks. We had to ask, "Are we there yet?" Headed to Nova Scotia as we did most summers, there was no point asking. We knew this was an impossibly long drive. We'd get there someday.

The thing about a road trip is that the destination is known ahead of time. The route is mapped out. The timing is calculated. There may be slow downs for construction and detours for problems on the road, but the basic shape of the journey is known. The driver can answer the question "Are we there yet?" with a good sense of when the arrival will take place.

The metaphor "Life is a journey" worries me. It is true that there are landmarks. In life, we don't have to ask if we are there yet because when we finish the last exam in Grade Twelve, we know we've arrived at the end of High School. When we get hired for our dreamed of vocation, we know we're there; we achieved the goal.

The problem with comparing life to a journey is that we start to think we can map out where we are going. And it suggests that there is a destination.

But with most of life, the journey is not one we can map out. Things happen that we do not plan. And there is not just one destination. There are a series of arrivals, but each point opens and shifts where we go next. Where we thought we were headed at the end of university is often not where we end up wanting to go.

And if we think of broader goals that we want to achieve, there is no road map. I am part of a few writer's groups on Facebook. Frequently, new writers announce that they've finished their epic fantasy and ask "What's the next step?" By that they mean how to find an agent or a publisher. The experienced authors write back that it is time to find beta readers. Those who have books out in the world know that the first time you think the story is finished just means that it is time to start the hard work of editing.

Think of your own dreams and goals. There is not a straight known road to achieve them. The path, the work, has to be figured out step by step.

This week, when the pathway to reopening Ontario was laid out, there were no dates attached. We got nothing but a rough outline. I'm guessing that some people who are feeling the weight of this self-isolation were disturbed, angrier and more frustrated. "Are we there yet?" will be a question posed often in the next while.

The thing is, life is not a road trip. We don't have a map. Though I sense our society teaches us differently, there is not a known destination. We are travelling with a compass--a sense of direction and dreams--but no map. There is no arrival.

It's good to look around and examine where we are. It's good to have a plan for the next week, the next five years. It's important to dream. But the answer to the question "are we there yet?" will always be "no."

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay

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