Cruising on the Road of Life

California highway1Exactly three years ago, in late June 2006, my childhood best friend Amrita came to visit me in Seattle from New Delhi. It was her first visit to the United States, and we had talked about it for years and years, ever since the inseparable two were separated with my move to America in 1997, but it had never happened. Of course that’s because it was meant to happen right then – my childhood friend, coming out share in my re-birth, and spend time with me in my new home and new post-divorce life!

As you might imagine, there was much excitement about what all we might do in her 20-day stay. I wanted of course, that she spend enough time in glorious, summertime Seattle, and then I also wanted her to get a taste of the spirit of America. Being architects and design-lovers, it was tempting to zip around to international design hubs like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles … or, as I finally proposed to her: we could experience one of America’s biggest assets – her natural wonders. And we could do this using her biggest symbol of freedom – the great big automobile!

So, off we went, renting a huge SUV (one-way) for a weeklong road trip along Pacific Highway 101, starting in Seattle and ending in Los Angeles, with various stops in coast-towns of Washington, Oregon and California, including Portland and San Francisco. (Which meant of course, that Amrita didn’t miss out on a good dose of city-life either.) We stayed in charming little Bed-and-Breakfast Inns in various towns, and the changing vegetation, transforming hues of the ocean and various sea creatures we saw as we progressed from Oregon to California were mesmerizing.

california sea lionsIt was my first time driving such long stretches all by myself; although Amrita is the expert New Delhi driver, it was too complicated to have her drive on the U.S Highway system. A particular stretch of driving became unforgettable for both of us – it is etched into our memories in a way that makes us shudder with thrill and break into peals of laughter to this day. Setting off from a little town near Crescent City in northern California, we had arrived at the amazing Redwood National Park, and like the twelve-year-olds we had been when we first became friends, we had become so spellbound by the giant, ancient trees reaching towards Heaven, and their thick trunks we could drive through in our big American SUV, that we did not leave the forest until the late afternoon hours. This was quite crazy, as our plan was to cover 250 miles on twisting-and-turning Highway-101 all the way to San Francisco and sleep there that night: the next day was July 4th, and we really wanted to feast our eyes on the fireworks over the San Francisco Marina – a first for both of us.

As early evening set upon us, both of us were hungry and tired from all the jumping around in the forest. We stopped to get dinner of fresh seafood, and as soon as the food hit my stomach, my eyelids began feeling heavy. San Francisco was still more than 150 miles away, and Amrita gave me a concerned look, saying, “You sure we shouldn’t just sleep here and call the motel in San Francisco?” I did stop to think for a moment, but for some reason, San Francisco and the cute brownstone courtyard motel I had booked for us, beckoned to me. We carried on into the night, and eventually the highway narrowed and began making sharp hairpin turns, with the speed limit lowered to 15 miles per hour. The air was becoming a deathly still, the moon had risen high into the sky, and the water below the cliff’s edge we were driving on, was a glistening black. It got darker and lonelier, and soon there wasn’t a single other vehicle on the road. All I could see at any given moment was the few feet of distance that the SUV’s headlight illuminated, and keeping my unwavering eyes on that glowing patch of road, I simply drove on, and on… and on. At one moment my eyelids got so droopy that I pulled over and stopped, blinking hard into the stillness. Amrita looked at me nervously, and for a moment I felt a fear gripping my stomach. Then I looked up at the moon and had an impulse to step outside. Amrita followed me, and we stood together, holding hands at America’s western cliff-edge, facing the black Pacific Ocean with a full moon over our heads. “Oh my God, this is so beautiful!” Amrita whispered in wonderment and awe. I felt all fear leaving me, and I knew my Higher Power had returned. I said to her, “Ammu, guess what! If I get too tired, we will become the only two Indian women to sleep off Highway 101 in their SUV facing the Pacific Ocean!” She began giggling, and with this in mind, we splashed water on our faces and took to the road once again.

The rest of the night followed this pattern; we began to look forward to our stops, to stand outside facing the ocean, smell the air, splash water on our faces and get on the road again. (Amrita also designed an amazing pee-as-you-go program for us: she would open the two SUV doors on the shoulder-side and instruct me to squat in between the doors, then have me move the vehicle a few feet forward so she had a new spot to decorate!) On one of our stops, Amrita squealed and then clamped her mouth shut with her palm, pointing into the dark wilderness. There were two glittering eyes, reflecting the moonlight. I quickly turned the car’s lights on, and we saw a beautiful doe-eyed deer staring at us. It was a breathtaking sight. At another moment, when we were on one of the hairpin turns, a totally unbelievable sight emerged – a man on a skateboard, gliding smoothly and effortlessly in the opposite direction, like a ghost on wheels! So we were not the only crazy ones, we said to ourselves. We sang along with our Bollywood music CDs, took in the invisible ocean and the full moon, and five unbelievably long hours of hairpin turns and 15mph signs later, the road suddenly straightened out, and we knew we were getting somewhere. Before we knew it, the Golden Gate Bridge was upon us. Amrita yelled out a triumphant cry like you wouldn’t believe it – the Golden Gate Bridge!!!!!!!!!! She yelled and yelled and yelled. “I have studied about it and taught about it and seen endless photographs and never in my life could I imagine entering San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge at 3 o’clock in the morning!!!!!”

Since that night, I have never been able to look at the full moon and not think of the amazing, wondrous, joyous, free-spirited, exhilarating moments I had with my best friend, driving along the Pacific Ocean. Was that a good plan? Probably not. Would most people advise driving on Highway 101’s most treacherous stretch in the middle of the night? Certainly not. Did we get to San Francisco? Yes! Did we have the time of our lives? Yes, yes, yes! Not only can I not forget that night, whenever I have felt low since then, finding the moon in the sky and reliving that night has instantly changed my perspective. It is an unforgettable reminder that I can always find my way.

When practicing the power of now, many become distracted by “planning for the future.” Most people struggle with the question: How can I remain present and ensure I am doing the best for my future? What should be my short-term actions, and what should be my long-term actions? Businesses appear to spend hours on end of high-value time trying to forecast, strategize and plan, and many individuals and couples take similar approaches to their lives, for aspects such as their finances, career, and parenthood.

Cruising on the road of life is not much different from taking the free-spirited road trip I described above. I am aware of the place from where I am starting out, and I make an intention to get to a certain destination. (I could even start out saying I cannot name my destination, but I know I want to head southward to a beautiful place, and I want to experience the ocean along the way.) Once I have set the intention for my destination, I have nothing else of long-term concern to focus on. My headlights illuminate 200 feet at a time, and all I need to do is to make sure I pay attention to what I can see, and stay on the road. Every now and again, a sign will show up – and since I know my destination, I will have learned to read the signs correctly, and take the correct arm in every fork in the road. Sometimes I will encounter roadblocks, but if I pay attention, there will be signs for a detour. Sometimes I will inadvertently make a mistake and take a wrong turn, but if I am calm and patient with myself, and remember my destination, I will find my way with the help of a local map or other posted signs, or I will ask someone along the way, and I will be back on the road to my destination. Nowhere on a long-distance road-trip will I be able to see the entire roadway I am about to take, and never will I really know how I will get from where I am to where I want to go. Sometimes there will be milestones that inform me where I am relative to my destination, and at others there may not be any.

Not a single soul of greatness, who has achieved something of world-class or timeless importance, has ever said he knew how to get from where he started to where he wanted to go. All he ever knew was that he wanted to get somewhere, and he got about the business of simply doing it. Cruising on the road of life is made possible by setting intentions, keeping our eyes intently on the next 200 feet that we can see, and reading the signs from our Higher Power. When we have the highest and best intentions, and are acting in love and with feelings of joy, then the signs from our Higher Power become clearly visible, recognizable and actionable. We do not get lost, and when we take detours it is because there are better sights to take delight in along the way. When we are in tune with our intentions and our intentions are in tune with the Universe, then there is simply not an iota of doubt that we will get to … er … San Francisco!

 

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta



8 Comments

  1. Khushi

    Amazing writing. I could picture you and Amrita. And feel the moonlight. Trust her to come up with a pee as you go program 🙂 How amazing to see a guy on a skateboard.

  2. PRy

    Nice!!.Tana you write good stories/posts….I do eagerly wait for all of them…Keep up the good work…

  3. mahi

    Tana – Your post took me back to highway 101. You are an extremely gifted writer. My husband and I have taken a similar trip on Hihgway 1 and 101 from San Diego to border of CA and Oregon. It was one of the best vacations we have ever taken. Reading your post, I could hear the waves crashing around Big Sur and see the magestic pacific. Please keep on writing more. I love reading your posts.

  4. Tana

    Thank you so much, Khushi, Pry and Mahi. The Bloggermoms community has been incredibly encouraging and has inspired me to push myself hard towards the finish line for a book. Thank you from my heart for all your support.

  5. indrani

    Tana, whenever you release your book, I’ll be one of the first ones to grab a copy of the same. I love your post and your description of your road trip, absolutely amazing choice of words. Simply superb writing!

  6. Tana

    Thanks so much Indrani! Your encouragement means a lot to me.

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