If you’re like me, you know the restorative power of a long drive on a sunny afternoon. I’m a preservice teacher currently observing at Knox County Middle School. Each day, I drive a round-trip distance of about 50 miles, which takes an hour. As a Typical Truman Student who, like most of you, is getting more than just a little nervous about finals, you might think I would resent the time it takes out of my day to travel the distance between campus and my placement at the middle school. On the contrary, this drive is often my favorite part and my scheduled alone time for relaxation. By the end of the school day, I find myself looking forward to getting in the car again, allowing the sun to stream through my moonroof and listening to my CD collection.
I can’t seem to articulate exactly what it is about driving on a beautiful day, especially in the countryside, that lends itself so well to self-care. Certainly, there’s a duality between being in control of the vehicle and being under nature’s control, of being outside and inside all at once. Even if you’re an adamant fan of winter, it’s almost impossible to not smile at the first sign of sunlight’s return in April. I always find a marked improvement in my mood during the spring and summer months, and driving on the road in the middle of nowhere is one of the situations in which the transition from winter to spring is most palpable. Even with the air conditioner on, there’s no denying the feeling of sunlight on one’s skin or the gentle gusts of wind that occasionally buffet the car.
However, it seems to be more than that. I feel most like myself in the car, behind the wheel and in complete control of what music I listen to, what roads I take and what stops I make along the way. Although I am alone, or perhaps because of it, I am tranquil, and I can recharge and prepare to join my friends for dinner or a long night of studying. There is a sense of inner peace and connection on these road trips, however brief, that I can’t seem to find anywhere else, perhaps because I do some of my most productive and introspective thinking on these drives to Knox.
I’ve enjoyed driving since I got my license at 16, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that the joy of the activity lies not only in the freedom that one feels to be able to make their own choices and provide their own transportation, but the freedom to be alone with yourself and realize your own lack of limitations. This realization came about, in part, because of the simple fact that cars serve as the ultimate liminal spaces, spaces that are the in-between of two distinct situations. Once on the other side of the liminal space, life will look fundamentally different, yet while inside of it, it becomes impossible to return to the situation that you left. Just as holidays, weddings and airport terminals are liminal spaces, so are cars, because you’re never quite sure who you’ll be or where life will take you once you step out of the driver’s seat again. Wherever or whatever it will be like, it will be just a little different from what you’ve left behind.
Although we often describe having difficult decisions as “being at a crossroads,” when we’re at a real crossroads, the decision is easy; we take the road that feels best at the time. If we don’t like where we’re heading, we turn around. If we wish we had gone the other way, we simply loop back and choose that path this time. There are no difficult choices to make while we drive; it’s the ultimate liminal space in which we can be one thing and another at the same time. We can be far along in our college journey, already past most of our school years, and yet still learning how to be human. We can be kids who have just gotten our licenses and adults shadowing at school districts and preparing for our careers. We can know exactly what we want to be, and at the same time not have a clue at all. These contradictions are uncomfortable at best in “real life,” and produce anxiety and self-doubt at worst. However, big life decisions, which press heavily on our minds at all times, aren’t important on the road; those decisions can wait until you park. Right now, all you have to worry about is whether to turn right or left.
Finals are without question one of the most stressful parts of students’ academic lives. The months of November and April, for many, are months defined by too much to do and not enough time to do it. Regardless, I would definitely recommend finding 30 minutes or so to take a drive on a sunny afternoon. Seize the opportunity to connect with the backroads and become a part of the land, to revel in the quiet of your own thoughts and think about who you are and what makes you feel like you. It might just be that what you need more than anything is a chance to reflect, to relax and to realize that you, just like the open road, are limitless. Take the time to live in a liminal space, and you might just find the answer you’ve been looking for all along.
Just don’t forget to fill the tank before you leave!