another road trip. this time to celebrate a truly momentous occasion: my dad’s 75th birthday. a big party was planned. my brother was flying in from the west coast. loads of people had rsvp’d to attend this amazing milestone: three-quarters-of-a-century of a life well-lived, and largely devoted to enriching the lives of others through his warmth, eternal optimism, intellectual curiosity and legendary cooking.
the kids were giddy with excitement. the car was packed with the requisite road trip essentials: snacks, bottled water, pillow pets, and an assortment of tunes—from radiohead (oddly enough logan’s favorite lullaby music) to adele’s crooning to those damn “party rockers” who were “in the house” with us across 3 states(!)—designed to keep the monkeys in the back seat engaged and us awake during the boring trek across the interstate.
about an hour into the drive, after we just crossed over the bridge to the skyway, it started.
“are we there yet?”
“no honey. we’re still in illinois.”
“how much longer?”
“a long time. don’t worry about it. just enjoy the ride.” ugh…it’s going to be a looong drive, i thought to myself.
normally, i’d seize the opportunity to craft my speech for the event during the all too familiar, 5+ hour drive on the long stretch of toll roads from chicago to cleveland. but this time i wasn’t worried about what i was going to say. i had written an homage to my dad months earlier, “finding your inner zen: a portrait of domingo,” as a way of sharing what an incredible source of inspiration he has always been to me. i felt fortunate to be able to read it aloud in a room filled with loved ones who were gathered in his honor.
unlike my usual, down-to-the-wire antics, this time i was prepared well in advance...so my plan was to sink back into my seat and sleep long enough to wipe away a good chunk of time off the drive. i closed my eyes.
but deeper thoughts were swirling around in my head. in the two weeks prior to this trip, my CEO’s son, thomas, passed away at the age of 7 due to neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer of the sympathetic nervous system. shortly after that, the news broke that steve jobs, the single greatest visionary of our time, had died at 56.
they were world’s apart, in years and life experiences. yet a similar reaction was echoed in both instances: “they lived life to the fullest. they touched people’s lives. and they were taken far too soon.”
i thought about my mom, who worked herself to the bone as a physician, only to finally retire and find herself with kidney failure, years of dialysis and not enough time to savor the fruits of her labor. she passed without ever laying eyes on rome, the eternal city, on her second grandson, on so many things that she would have loved and cherished. “she lived life to the fullest. she touched people’s lives. and she was taken far too soon.”
i looked out the window, eyes welling up. we zoomed past a bright, red, white and blue sign: “welcome to indiana, crossroads of america.”
“YAY! we’re in indiana! so we’re close now, right?” he was squealing with delight.
“um no, not even close.”
“ok so how much longer?”
“long. don’t worry about it. just relax. look out the window and enjoy the view.”
“awwww…ok fine.” pin, meet balloon.
a few miles later we came across a worn, but beautiful red barn. “hey guys, did you see those spotted cows? weren’t they adorable?”
“ohhhh so cute, mommy!” he was squealing again.
we filled the time between sing-alongs with views of neatly rolled haystacks on a blanket of light green grass, acres of golden cornfields, a massive semi accident that stopped us dead in our tracks for 45 minutes, and finally a breathtaking sunset before the boys finally started to drift off to sleep.
we were well into ohio now. monster yawns were heard from the back seat.
as he rubbed his bleary eyes and smacked his lips, he mustered one last attempt to gain certainty.
“ok i’m going to take a nap now. hopefully when i open my eyes we’ll be there…but can you please tell me how much longer?”
i didn’t answer. i paused to contemplate the question. when i peeked behind me a few minutes later, they were both fast asleep, peaceful and breathing deeply.
“how much longer?”
steve jobs’ sister gave a moving eulogy about their relationship and the person he was—not only as the most brilliant innovator but as a brother, as someone who cherished beauty above all else, who loved love and embraced learning.
she eloquently spoke how of his illness was a great reminder that “none of us knows for certain how long we’ll be here…we all—in the end—die in medias res. in the middle of a story. of many stories.”
but how many of us are savoring the chapters. living with intention. taking the time to pursue passions. appreciate loved ones. acting with the consciousness that at any moment, the plot may take a turn.
there will be smooth stretches, epic disasters, roadblocks, and hopefully some unexpected surprises. but if you’re forced to take a detour, no one may see the half-baked ideas formed, or hear the words you meant to say, but didn’t. you’ll only have who you are and what you’ve done up until that moment.
some people, like my dad, are thankfully blessed with rich lives and longevity. too many others are taken far too soon. either way, we are put on this earth. to learn from each other. to be inspired by each other. to appreciate beauty. to make the most of whatever time we are given.
“how much longer?”
“i don’t know. don’t worry about it. just enjoy the ride.”