“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” -Jack Kerouac ‘On the Road’
“This is it”, I remember thinking, “This is what life is supposed to be like”. I catch glimpses from time to time of life at it’s fullest, by my definition. And I’m not even sure I can exactly define it, but I know it when I feel it.
Speeding through the blackness of the corridor of I-40 of rural Tennessee, we made our way to the spindly Center Hill Lake. This is what I needed. My life was getting a bit too insane for my liking. The perfectly warm summer evening wind rushed in through our rolled down windows, folksy music faintly heard above the intense hum of the wind. We talked about the real. Life, love, happiness, exploration, meanings, questions, perhaps answers. All the things that make sense to discuss on a night like that. That’s when I knew that these next two days were going to be transformative.
Everyone convened and welcomed the late night at the quaint lake house with expectant joy and an abundance of alcohol. This joy was realized as more cans were emptied. We clambered over tables and chairs as we created some hybrid of a children’s game of hot lava and drinking PBR. The night roared on. Back porch talks, the trees still visible as dark shadows under the bright moon, then slipping back inside to laughter and hysteria around the kitchen table. I was in perfect limbo between the deep and the shallow, the serious and the light-hearted.
I woke up early with the sun the next morning, everyone else still under sleep’s spell. I had no idea how long I had fallen prey to this spell. All I knew is that I was happy to be alone for a bit under the quiet, warm morning. I tiptoed across the room to the kitchen and found eggs in the fridge and coffee in the cupboard and headed out to the back deck, which overlooked a tree filled ravine. Still squinting slightly from the sun, I enjoyed my breakfast for one. By now, I had surely recognized that this trip was special. I reveled in the present feeling, breathing in the lush air of complete realization of happiness. I drifted off into a half sleep in the sunshine, only an hour after awaking from the previous one.
I still haven’t seen the lake. My mind jumped out of delirium. I grabbed my book and set out to find the water. After winding around quite a few narrow streets, I walked down the large steep hill towards one inlet of the lake. I climbed my way out to a smooth, flat rock and stopped, to look, to breath, to experience. Just as I was arriving, a backwoods Tennessee family of three was trying to rev their small boat up, which I only assumed was made in 1981 by the looks of it. I simply looked on as the boat slowly spun in soft circles around the inlet, their southern accents marked with frustration. I smiled, not out of superiority or malice, but with an unexplainable delight in life, even in struggle. My gaze wandered down to my book, Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ and I was again lost in its pages. But, this time something clicked, the book was even more brilliant than I previously thought. I was living that life, the raw essence of the beat generation; not so much the sex and drugs, but its core roots of expressing and being, celebrating non-conformity. To me, life makes sense that way.
A phone call from my fellow hippie souls back at the cottage shot me back into the day. I trekked my way back up the hill to have a humble breakfast. We talked of the night before and our half memories muted by the liquor. And then, it was time to share in the lake together. Seven of us piled into a vehicle meant for 4 and slowly crawled down the hill to the water. There is no beach, just low rocks dropping into the shallow water. The boys spent their time playing a make shift version of skeet shooting with rocks and the girls floated serenely in the water making songs about hills and brothers and sisters. What more could you expect? The clear water paired with the blue sky sent us into a frenzy of delight with life. The late afternoon sun was telling us it was time to explore other places. We carefully pulled ourselves out from the water onto the rocky terrain still dripping with the perfectly temperate water.
We packed ourselves into the car again. The backseat was a jumble of heads, arms, and legs. Every space filled up with some part of someone’s body. It was somehow wonderful. Our bodies close, our hearts close, our minds all buzzing with similar, yet unique thoughts. We followed the small highway out (of the lake roads??) to the nearest town. A modest town of 4000, Smithville was empty already at five in the evening. A criss-crossed the town in a matter of minutes looking for something of which we did not know. When we felt like it was time, we parked and emptied the car of our bodies. We had brought along a few mismatched instruments. A small guitar, a kazoo, and our lazy voices. We found a rickety picnic table in a narrow alley and plopped our hazy selves on it. Our alley music then started. First shyly, then the shame wore away and we let ourselves be heard. The music didn’t really make any sense, just noise, but noise that we all understood without having to say a word.
Dinner was a blur of joy, laughs and greasy home-style food around our circular table. The conversation jumped back and forth, quick, like splashes of oil on a scorching hot pan. Community is easy when the right people are joined together. There are no conversational pauses, no wondering if people are happy, just the pure essence of the human souls gathered together.
The perfect time of the evening had then hit. The sun suspended itself at just the right place in the sky and it was time to pile ourselves back in the car. Our destination was unknown. We all had no idea where we were going but we all silently agreed that this was what should happen next. Every window was rolled down, every inch of skin crawled with the 6:42pm breeze, our eyes wandering lazily to our surroundings. The road took us to the country, the farmlands, the fields, barely large enough for two cars to fit side by side. We passed barn after barn, pasture after pasture. It all became a wonderful blur of life outside of the cities and towns. Without anyone having to say anything, we pulled the car off to the side of the road alongside a horse pasture. Some of us wandered away on foot along the deserted road, while others hopped the fence to walk with the horses. The sun continued to slowly sink into the western horizon.
The curious part about it the evening was the speed at which everything was moving. Life had slowed down. I no longer worried about speeding to the next “thing”. I didn’t care what anyone else anywhere else was doing at that point in time. I was completely living in that exact moment, minute by minute. It was one of the only times in my life that I felt completely free of the restraint of time. Time had no meaning.
Back on the road, we found ourselves back at water, a different part of the lake, the marina. We were the only ones who graced this place at this point in the day. Walking across the teetering dock, our gleeful yelps and shouts were only echoes lost across the lake. We sat ourselves at the end of a dock and slipped our dusty, tired feet water. Slowly flicking my legs back and forth, I watched the sun finally set over the slow, steady ripples of the calm lake. It was a bittersweet moment because I was actually watching this perfect day come to an end. There would be no other day like this is my life. I would never feel the exact things in the same places ever again. But, the feeling of complete satisfaction with life at that point was enough to push those other thoughts from my mind. Somehow I was thinking about everything and nothing at the same time. Everything mattered and nothing mattered. I was in perfect stasis with my environment.
Somehow at that moment, I knew this was the end of these formative days in my life. As we folded our bodies into the car one last time, I couldn’t help but feel a soul sadness that I’ve never quite felt before, a different kind of sadness that was so close to happiness I couldn’t tell the two apart.
The inky blue night had finally found it’s way to this part of the world and I found myself speeding back towards the city of Nashville unable to distinguish thoughts from reality. I was make a futile attempt to process the entire experience while trying to remember exactly how I felt each minute of the past 24 hours.
All I want from life is an adventure. I want to feel something, anything. I think what I am most scared of is disappointing myself, regretting life when I had the chance to be young and wild and free. But, then again, I never want to lose that. People often get so caught up in “living life” when they are young. But, why does this adventure have to stop when you hit some magical age of “oldness”? I’m going to choose to make this whole time that I have on this earth worthwhile.
I think the thing that motivates me most is the idea of being limitless; not confined by myself or cages that others attempt to put around me. Maybe I’m too motivated to be different, but I’d rather have it that way than to lean too far into complacency.
There’s this deep ache in my soul for both nature and city.
The peaceful lull of the hills and rivers draws my outward,
Enticing a relaxation I hardly ever attain.
Then, there’s this jealous unrest rising up from the city,
Luring me back inward,
Boasting of its mystery and raw potential of possibility.