Night fell hours ago. As dusk settled over the barren desert landscape, I switched on the headlights. The hum of the engine seems to drum in rhythm with the broken white lines that define the two sides of this strip of desolate highway. Darkness envelopes the world leaving only that which is directly before me to consider. The interior lighting of the console wraps me in a soft amber glow. The high beams offer about one hundred yards of insight into my future; my immediate future to be specific. I drive on in what I believe to be relative safety; confident in the precept that, though I cannot see my destination I will, in ever forward moving hundred yard increments, ultimately reach it.
In truth, though night fell years ago, decades ago, a lifetime ago, metaphorically speaking. The droning of the engine is comforting here in the desert, a white noise lullaby. One of my favorite memories from childhood, prior to the wise institution of seatbelt laws, was be to curled up on the bench back seat of my parents’ station wagon on the way home from some night time gathering. There in the darkness, I’d find comfort in the purr of the Dodge Polara engine and the gentle pitch and sway the given roadway afforded. The gatherings themselves were sometimes fun, sometimes awkward, these were my parents’ friends, who often happened to have children around my age. Regardless of how the evening went, whether I enjoyed it or simply endured it; I always looked forward to the comfort of the slow strobe of street lights reflecting off the vinyl upholstery. I would bury my face in the seam between the seat and backrest, welcoming the warm decent into dream state.
The white lines whip past me, ticking my journey off in nanoseconds. I see little more than these in my given hundred yards of illumination. An occasional signage alerts me to a coming lonely intersection, or town if one could call a desert gas station and closed motel a town, but that is about all I know of my next few minutes. So it has been with the daylight of my life as well. Many of us take life day by day, week by week or month by month. I count myself among that number. I drive through life using the throw of metaphorical headlights to see just far enough down the road to keep my foot on the accelerator. This approach has gotten me here, now, halfway across the southern border Joshua Tree National Park eastbound on U.S. Interstate 10 in the dead of night; speeding I might add, 95 in a 70mph zone.
What if instead of headlights I had searchlights? Of course, mounting searchlights to the roof of my car and plowing through the night might be perceived as incredibly inconsiderate by oncoming drivers, and likely more illegal than my 95 in a 70. But I think as I fly by another desolate rest stop, what would my life be like if I used searchlights to illuminate the future? How would my understanding of this present moment change? Hundreds of miles of possibilities, opportunities and choices would suddenly be illuminated in the space that was once a desert of impenetrable darkness. Some have done so, or we wouldn’t have electric lights at all.
One thought on “Searchlights”
This is a nice introspection. In my car at night, I hate seeing only a few seconds into the future. So much so that I rarely drive at night, and I once had a full-blown panic attack in the passenger seat of a car hurdling towards Moab Ut at 11PM. Similarly, I’m distressed by never knowing where my life will lead me. I hate riding this wave with little control of my destination. When I was five or six years old, I would sleep on the back ledge behind the rear seats of my father’s Mustang, nestled up against the cool rear window. I cannot imagine a more dangerous place to put a child. Great piece John.
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