It’s a sure sign of getting older when you realise what an idiot you were as a child for wanting to grow up quickly.
There’s a very delicate balance between missing the nostalgia of the past and the anticipation of an unknown future- it feels like you can never quite find an equilibrium between the two.
As it turns out, the older you get, the more you realise that you don’t know anything at all (although if you’re an older reader and actually have your shit together, I would love to be proved wrong).
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.
I first read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road during a very transitional time that seemed to have no end. The book, as it did with so many others, changed my life. There’s something so painfully cliché yet brutally true about wanting to know what we’re here for and wanting reassurance that our lives will turn out alright in the end. I think we all grow up believing we need to achieve certain things to feel worthy and fulfilled- but how much of this belief is wishful thinking or social conditioning, I don’t know. But I do know that failure is all the more bitter when it inevitably happens.
In Kerourac’s novel, Sal’s open road journey is a literal and metaphorical exploration of the unknown in his life. There’s not much of a plan or fixed destination, just a general idea of where he wants to go and who he wants to go with, even if he’s aware they may not be the best company. It’s not dissimilar to my own foray into some mythical idea of what “adulthood” is supposed to be. It’s realising that fulfillment is different for everyone, and sometimes it take a little longer to figure out what fulfillment means for you personally. It’s realising that really, everyone’s scared and worried. But as long as you take it day by day and deal with it as it comes, it doesn’t need to feel so scary.
I don’t want this blog post to turn into a cheesy “live you life to the fullest!” mantra that you might find in a discount self-help book, even if there is some truth to it.
But ultimately, I know it’s pointless to worry about the things I can’t control. There’s a point in the book where Sal sits in his car, contemplating where to go next. Much like the concept of “growing up”, there’s multiple paths ahead of him, but only one he can take. There’s no way of knowing which is the right one- or if there’s even a “right” path at all. Sal’s car is our vessel, and the roads before him are as open as our lives before us. There could be anything just around the corner, or maybe if we hurtle down the roads, we’ll reach our destination much faster; and that’s only assuming we have a fixed destination to begin with.
It’s a daunting thought, but as with all literature, though, there’s more than one way to interpret this. For me, though, the answer lies in the next line:
Nothing behind me, and everything ahead of me, as is ever on the road.
We just have to keep on moving forward.