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Heather Gray

Flawed...but loved anyway.

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Taking the Long Way Home

Taking the Long Way Home

 

I heard a song.  Well, sort of.  I heard part of a song.  I didn't hear enough to be able to tell you the name of the song.  I have no idea who was singing it.  I can't even swear that what I took from the song is the intended message.  I caught a snippet of a verse, and my mind grabbed onto it so tightly that the rest of the song faded into the background.

So now that you know what an unreliable source of information I can be when it comes to music, let me tell you what I got out of the song I heard.

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Have you ever been in a hurry to get somewhere?  Maybe you were late for an important event – a doctor's visit, a job interview, a wedding?  Anything like that ever have you so pressed for time that you rode the gas pedal as hard as you dared and looked for every possible shortcut to trim thirty seconds here and two minutes there off your trip?

What about taking your time?  Have you ever gotten in the car and said, "I'm going for a long drive," and then taken off with every intention of making that drive last as long as you could?

My husband and I were recently in Prince William Forest Park down near Quantico, Virginia.  We dropped our son off for a hike with some friends, and then we headed out of the park.  We weren't in a big hurry, so I told my husband to follow the sign that said, "Scenic Drive."  We got a bit more than we bargained for.

Every exit off the scenic drive was blocked.  At one point our road turned into a one-way trek through beautiful forest landscape.  One-way.  As in, the traffic is only allowed to move in one direction.  I had to ask, "What happens when we get to the end of the road?  If all the exits are closed so we can't get off the road, and it's a one-way drive…"  My confidence sagged when I realized that we were the only vehicle on the road.  We didn't see another vehicle even once.  Not while the road went in both directions, and not while it was a one-way street, either.

What we'd expected to be a ten-minute drive turned into more than thirty minutes with a few "uh-oh" moments.  Thankfully, the road eventually curved back around and dumped us out near where we'd gotten onto it.  We were able to exit the park without further incident, but my husband is a lot less likely to follow my lead the next time I point out a sign that says "Scenic" on it.

It would be nice if every long road trip we'd ever taken had turned out that well.  Life doesn't quite work that way, though, does it?  What generally happens when, on our separate paths along life's journey, you and I end up taking the long way?

When we take the long way home, we usually run into more traffic than we would have otherwise seen.  More traffic means, of course, more traffic jams.  I'll tell you, I did not even come close to understanding what traffic was until I moved to northern Virginia.  For those of you living out there where you have fewer than a kazillion people per square mile – I hope you appreciate it!

When we take the long way home, we pass accidents.  Sometimes we see it happen and know first-hand that a life has been lost, that a family will get life-changing news that day.  Then there are the times when we get pulled into an accident by either an overzealous driver or a negligent one.  That segues nicely into the next point:  The longer your drive, the more bad drivers you'll see.  (Hopefully I'm not talking about you…or me!)

Let's not forget construction, which always slows us down.  Then there are the detours designed to keep us out of the construction.  Those detours sometimes travel into the nether regions of communities that haven't seen the light of day in eons and whose roads are so worn, cracked and chipped that they ought not be able to support the weight of a passing vehicle.

Now for the weather.  When we take the long way home, we are more likely to run into weather so severe that it blinds us, giving us no choice but to pull over to the side of the road and pray for mercy or stick to the taillights of the driver in front of us…and pray for mercy.  I remember being in a storm on my way to Knoxville, Tennessee a couple years ago.  The rain was coming down so hard that there simply was no way to pull off.  I couldn't see the side of the road, and if I couldn't see it, I wasn't going to drive for it.  Not to mention the concern of hitting someone who had pulled off already…but who I couldn't see because of the downpour!  No sirree!  Instead, I glued myself to the bumper of the rig in front of me and prayed for myself and every other driver on that road.  Sometimes storms and downpours come along that slow us down, give us a teeth-rattling shake of fear, and test our commitment to see the journey through to its end.

Then there's the invariable road rage.  I have seen people jump out of their car, arms thrown wide in anger as they approach another vehicle.  Hopefully that's on the extreme side.  There are the other forms of road rage where people cut each other off or prevent someone from changing lanes so they can take their exit – all because they feel they've been slighted somehow.  I think of that as the passive-aggressive approach.  All because someone let themselves get angry instead of choosing to let it go and extend grace to the other drivers on the road.

"I have to go!"  We can't forget the necessary bathroom breaks.  Then, of course, back in the pre-GPS days, there were all those stops to bring a map into the gas station and ask, "Where am I?"

Back before we had kids, my husband and I were traveling through Grand Junction, Colorado one time.  It was the wee hours of the morning.  We needed to change from one freeway to another, but we had to drive through the town to make the connection.  We got turned around somehow.  We realized our mistake right as the flashing red and blue lights came on.  We were going the wrong way down a one-way street.  Directly in front of the police station.  To this day I'm convinced the officer let us off with only a warning and directions to the freeway because we had our dog with us.  Who can resist a cute dog?  That's one of those times when we should have stopped and asked directions but instead thought we had it all figured out.

What are some of the other things we run into on long drives?  Rocks flying off the big truck in front of us and shattering our windshield.  Wild animals running across the road.  Pot holes.  Air conditioners that break down in the middle of summer.  Radiators that blow their top when we need them the most, spewing boiling hot water right into our faces.  Roadkill.  Lots of lots of roadkill.

Or – here's one we've probably all experienced – getting a quick bite to eat at a gas station.  Realizing thirty miles later, as the stomach begins to protest, that expiration dates really shouldn't be taken as mere friendly suggestions.

What about rest areas?  I'm not talking about the nice ones that call out to us, making us want to stop and use the bathroom.  I'm talking about the ones that look like they should have been condemned decades before.  The kind of rest areas whose smell hits us like a brick wall as soon as we take the off-ramp from the freeway.  Only, by then, it's too late.  We've already committed.  The bladder, of course, in that split second before the smell hits, senses relief and begins to insist that we give up our noble attempt to drive right on through the rest area and back onto the freeway.

Don't get me wrong.  There is a lot of great stuff to see out there when you take the long way home.  We get to spend time with the people trapped in the vehicle with us after our debacle with the gas station food, which, let's face it, can be nothing but fun…  Okay, I admit that might not be the best selling point.

The long way home can be a beautiful drive, a wonderful adventure.  You and I, as we travel the long way through life, will see things we'd never otherwise have noticed.  Imagine the sights we would have missed if we never got stuck on a detour!  Or the people we never would have met if not for getting stuck at the should-have-been-condemned rest area.  We will commiserate together and laugh about the stories we'll be able to share once our journey is over.  We might even get a chance to help somebody along the way…or let another person help us.

Let's decide right now not to just enjoy the experience of taking the long way.  Instead, let's commit to relish it.

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As with everything in life, there are some questions that need to be answered.  Maybe you've thought of them already.  Maybe not.  These are important questions to consider, though, as you take the long way home.

Where is home?

Are you looking forward to getting there?

I can't tell you how to answer these questions.  I can only share my answers with you.  I know where my home is.  It's in heaven.  That's where I'm going, and I can't wait to get there.  I'm taking the long way, though.  I'm not rushing.  Sometimes that long way is amazing, and sometimes I find myself stranded at the stinky should-have-been-condemned rest area…without cell service…or a nose plug.

No matter what this journey entails, when I get home, it will all have been worth it.  No beauty that I see in this world can compare to what I will see when I get home.  No pain that I feel in this world can diminish the joy and relief that I will feel when I get home.  I think of it a bit like a vacation.  When I go on an extended trip, no matter how much fun I have, as the end of the trip approaches, I look forward to getting home.

There are times when people don't take the long way.  I understand that.  My daughter, my Ladybug – she got to take a shortcut.  She's never going to be stuck at the rest area.  She's never going to have a radiator explode.  She's never going to mistakenly think gas station food has improved in the last decade.  No construction, no detours, no flying rocks, no pot holes, no roadkill.  Because she got to take a shortcut.  She's already home.

There are days when I envy her that shortcut.  I can't help it.  I'm only human.  And I miss my girl.  On any given day, the thought of my daughter's shortcut can overwhelm me with joy for her and sadness for me, both in varying degrees.  Each day, though – every single day that goes by, I know relief.  Why?  Because I know exactly where my daughter is, and I know I'll get there eventually.  I'm just taking the long way home.

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This is so sweet, Heather, and really well-written. You're such an inspiration. :)



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