The book, Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon, is a tale, a true tale, of one man’s journey to the center of himself. He finds himself by circling the United States. I, myself, have also found that it is by traveling when I learn the greatest about myself. Particularly, I’ve learned about how life has its transitory phases and how you grow from one phase to the next, sometimes unaware that you have changed, but mostly you know the changes that have occurred.
The author writes…
I had seen thirty-eight Blood Moons, an age that carries its own madness and futility. With a nearly desperate sense of isolation and a growing suspicion that I lived in an alien land, I took to the open road in search of places where change did not mean ruin and where time and men and deeds connected.
Strangely and mystically, this book came into my awareness as a suggestion from a website where I had booked a plan ticket. The website sent me an email of suggested reading and music selections to take along on a flight.
This book is about a man who confronts some of his identity but also his loneliness. He travels the nation’s “blue highways,” secondary routes, in a circular pattern from Missouri to the East, Southeast, South, Southwest, up the west coast, across the plains states, into the Midwest, up to the North, across to the Northeast, and back down and home to Missouri.
After losing his job, his relationship, and questioning his purpose he, understatedly, needed to “find himself” or something, but ended up discovering what is true. The one thing we often take for granted: no matter where you go, you will find people with incredible stories and you’ll also get to share your own.
Wherever I travel, I am usually presented with opportunities to meet interesting individuals doing something incredible. It’s almost as if people are placed along the timeline of your life to impart some wisdom you need to get to the next phase!
Seven years ago I experinced this type of opportunity while witnessing the rite of marriage and travelling across country. I had the most interesting and peculiar conversations. It was said to me during a very serendipitous airplane conversation, that as I turned 29 years old, my nose was getting rubbed in adulthood.
I had flown to the Pacific Northwest in the late summer, 2005, had just celebrated my 29th birthday and was looking forward to a friend’s wedding, but also feeling some trepidation while facing my own “singlehood.” On the way home I met an insightful and brilliant woman and her companion. The woman became interested in my knitting and before I knew it she was giving me some spiritual advice based on the cosmos and zodiac.
She explained what I had already begun to know: moving from your 20s into your 30s was an understated and tumultuous change. We create expectations for ourselves and our lives that are built on fantasy and stories from what we’ve learned to be true of human existence: that we are always trying to find some meaning or legacy of our lives to impart, and that we are seeking partnership so as not to create this legacy alone.
Life’s experiences for us all are happenchance and also probably knit together by the universe. Then again, maybe all the pieces are put together into a whole which is representative of the kind of life we made for the kind of person we are. That is, we rarely take a moment to look at the whole picture for we are firmly feeling out each moment.
I see this in my work as a substance abuse counselor, each moment for some people are lived based on “what” or “how” we feel – some things are tolerated, while negative things are absolutely not tolerated, or, rather, obliterated. Negative moments can be welcomed in order to create an excuse for an escape. Isn’t this how things work anyway?
We have to have low moments, moments of some sort of disillusion and destruction in order for true growth and knowledge. Least Heat-Moon contemplates and ponders, throughout his journey, the meaning of his encounters, the effect on his own state of being, and the notion of moving forward.
While I had failed to put any fragments of my journey into a whole, I did have a vague sense of mentally moving away from some things and toward others. But in the Sierra gloom, even that notion seemed an illusion produced by motion down a highway, as if the road moved through me in a continual coming and going that was, in the long run, stasis.
I was on a Ferris wheel, moving along, seeing far horizons, coming close to earth rising again, moving, moving, but all the time turning in the same orbit. Black Elk says, ‘Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle.’ A hope.
Missourians sometimes speak of a place called Hacklebarney: a nonexistent town you try to get to that is forever just around the next curve or just over the next hill, a town you believe in but never get to.
What had happened during that trip out to the Washington state is that I confronted some of my adolescent fears of loneliness and embraced that what comes into our world is supposed to be there. I was surrounded by dear friends throughout that trip, and was witness to a wedding. The meaning of that ceremony gets lost in the details most times. I had an opportunity to have a conversation with the bride, one of my dearest friends, about the meaning of that moment for her. I hadn’t realized that a wedding is a ceremony that indicates a shift of our very identity. We are no longer just the individual, but part of a union of two individuals. There is a loss as much as there is a gain.
The mysticism and fantasy surrounding weddings usually focuses so much on the fanfare that the actual event itself becomes a joyous extravaganza filled with beauty. But for the individuals, it means letting go of our solo venture and joining a companion. I don’t think I would have come to that realization at any other age – that was at 29-years-old. I have become 35-years-old and have ventured into the new territory which is adulthood; almost in the middle, but still holding on to some of the tenacity of youth. I have been to many countries throughout the world and around the country. I have moved far away from home. I have completed journeys through adolescence, various stages of education, and into and out of relationships. Currently I find myself moving toward comfort with self and that elusive place: acceptance.
A man lives in things and things are moving. He stands apart in such a temporary way it is hardly worth speaking of. If that perception dims egocentrism, that illusion of what man is, then it also enlarges his self, that multiple yet whole part which he has been, will be, is. (Least Heat-Moon, 1982, pg. 241)
When you need it, a message will find you; to help you move into the next place you need to be. Venture into the journey of Blue Highways, it will shed some light on where you are now.
Post contributed by Kerry Kruk. Kerry Kruk is an art therapist and substance abuse counselor at an inpatient crisis stabilization and detoxification unit in Virginia Beach. Originally from Wisconsin, Kerry earned her bachelor’s degree from Lawrence University where she majored in Biology, Chemistry, and Neuroscience. Naturally, she moved to Virginia where she earned her master’s degree in Art Therapy from Eastern Virginia Medical School where she now serves as adjunct faculty. She volunteers for the Tarheel Old English Sheepdog Rescue from which she rescued her sheepdog “Gertie,” and takes Improv comedy classes where she rescued her wonderful Romanian boyfriend. She is currently enjoying notoriety from various sketch and improv comedy performances around Norfolk, VA.