Mile after excruciating mile, when the 65 mile-per-hour speed limit feels like 15, when everyone in the car is tired and hungry, when the destination is still an hour away and mile markers are the only points of interest, parents endure the refrain from the back seat “Are we almost there?” — while muttering the same words under their breath with an added “please, God.” All the patience and calm parents prayed for last Sunday morning get tossed out the window like a cup of cold, bitter coffee.
My parents made every effort on those long-ago road trips. I remember singing and car games, bags of snacks, and a little plastic urinal — what my father called a “duck” — which brought little comfort and no joy to an overactive little boy.
As a parent of the 80s and 90s, I experienced the same impatience and agitation in the front seat position — and so it goes, generation to generation.
Even with the advent of smartphones, in-car movies, and GPS devices that give mile-by-mile positions and estimated arrival times, we still have that “almost-there?” stress on long road trips.
Our long pandemic trip has been and continues to be long and painful, too — many times worse than the worst road trip but a journey that brings the same feelings of aching anticipation and mental strain along with a lot more dread and fear. The production of multiple safe and effective vaccines gives us hope, though the distribution and injection rates are uneven and lagging, especially among some social-economic, ethnic, and racial groups.
Are we almost there? No, not quite. Masks and social distancing are still required. Careful hand washing is still recommended. Thankfully, clear guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, capable leadership in Washington and many states, trust in scientists and doctors, and wide-spread citizen responsibility are keeping us safe — even as we count the days and anticipate the day when we can be together in all of the ways we once were.
True, we’re not there yet. We are here still traveling in the pandemic car; so what can we do now to keep our wits about us and a strong spirit within us?
For guidance, I turn to Pema Chödrön, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun, and her classic book “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.” She writes, “The future is the result of what we do right now…. Right now we are creating our state of mind for tomorrow, not to mention this afternoon, next week, next year, and all the years of our lives.” The future is the present, tomorrow begins in this moment. As it is, so shall it be.
Now, what are some good daily practices? How do we stay present in today and hopeful for tomorrow? What can help us be here now more than there later?
The essential practice, first and always, is stillness and silence. Only in the peace and the quiet can our inner wisdom emerge, gently pushing us and leading us toward our truest and best selves. That inner wisdom, that divine guidance, that godly voice within us all is heard only when we are still and silent.
For me, early morning, as sleepiness dissolves and presence returns; while the coffee is brewing, the dog is resting, the heat is coming up, and the birds are feeding; and before the demands of the day have yet to consume me — I sit. Just for a few minutes. That’s all, and that’s enough.
For you, you may have another time for a brief respite during the day or evening — at home, on a walk, a quiet place where you work or volunteer, or just before you start or leave your car. Where and when doesn’t matter. What matters is the stillness and the silence and the emerging wisdom that informs the moment both present and future.
Here’s another daily practice: Throughout the day let the practice of simplicity in word and action be our guide, as we speak and move always in the divine presence, always in the service of love and compassion, always in our whole beingness and our endless hopefulness.
For me, as a community minister providing support and guidance to homeless and formerly homeless men and women, everything seems complicated, everything is urgent, everything is just plain hard. Yet, when I slow down, simplify the tasks, and admit that I can’t fix everything and everybody, I feel the presence of God guiding me, reassuring me, and loving me. I pause and breathe and begin again — repeating as needed.
For you, in whatever daily tasks you perform and responsibilities you must meet, seek to simplify, slow down, and speak and act from your heart of love and compassion rather than the mind and ego that demands attainment, perfection, and recognition. Pause and breathe and begin again.
Here’s one more daily practice for this not-quite-yet-there time: Love everything, love everybody, whether or not it or they deserve love. Love unconditionally. Be the prayer. Be the mercy. Be the divine. This love practice not only brings peace and joy to you and me, it brings change to us all.
I serve individuals who are, to be very honest, hard to love. One gentleman is an unapologetic bigot and misogynist, uses the F-word in just about every sentence, and exhibits paranoid behavior. I hold him in my thoughts as my bigoted, woman-hating, cussed, paranoid, child of God. He tests my unconditional love and mercy every time we meet; but, by grace, I keep trying.
You may know some individuals who are also hard to love. Maybe, because of all the hard lessons we’ve learned about ourselves and others during the pandemic, we should love even harder because love changes us, changes things, changes the future.
And then some silence, some stillness, some breathing, some simplicity, some love, some grace, and endless beginnings that invite some needed change.
Are we almost there? No, we are still here; but here can be good, here is our place of being and hope and maybe some joy, here creates a better there.
So I’m looking forward to my first post-pandemic road trip. Wherever I go and whomever my traveling companions are, I’m going to enjoy every moment of the ride, sing my favorite car songs, eat my favorite road food, and stop at rest stops whenever I need to. I’ve got a new attitude, a new driver-seat equanimity. I’m wiser now. More resilient. On this first trip, with a calm smile and a heart at ease, I’ll say to myself and to everyone in the front seat and the back, “Enjoy the ride. We’ll get there when we get there.”
Photo: Interstate 395, Norwich, Conn.