Next Rest Area 35 Miles. I thought nothing of this sign on a recent trip to Ann Arbor, other than to ask if anyone needed to stop, or could they wait. Of course the mere suggestion of needing to stop was enough to gain consensus. The turn signal was immediately engaged and we coasted into a parking space, emerged from the car walking awkwardly until all of the joints began to move again, and made a bee-line for the “necessary rooms”, the wall maps, and yes, the food oasis.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I realized how many of us are pulling off the road to take a breath. Unlike the brick and stone structures on the Thruway, the rest areas that seem to be utilized by everyone around me lately are significant breaking points between what was, and what is yet to be. I feel surrounded by extended pauses, tremendous exhaling of pent up stress, and a lingering sense of waiting… preparing… catching a second wind, before heading out for round two, or three, or twenty-three.
We seem to spin in our own feverish orbits meeting deadlines, pushing and racing until we hear the little voice saying, “Does anybody need to stop?” Apparently the answer was yes last week. The kids were home again, sleeping in their old beds, eating Dad’s pancakes on Saturday morning, and filling the house with conversations that informed and entertained. This was our rest area along a delicious, busy road of life. I wondered … were we catching up or catching our breaths between Sophomore and Junior year at college, between undergraduate and graduate school, between Broadway shows, between single life and married life, between life in Buffalo and life elsewhere, between working and retirement, between what’s done and what’s next?
That same week I attended a White Coat Ceremony at the University of Buffalo; my dear friend’s son was beginning Medical School. I sat there looking at fresh-faced college graduates about to embark on another four years of school; what a sight, an auditorium that served as one enormous rest area. The studying, the tests, the applications, the interviews, the waiting, were all over. Press pause. Exhale. Look where you’ve been, look where you’re headed. Press start.
My family and my friends all seem to be at rest areas, teetering between the old and the new, the last 50 mile stretch and the 35 miles that lie between here and the next stop. My fondest wish is that we all take advantage of the opportunity to breathe, if only for a brief time, check out the maps, confirm the route, gather some nourishment, collect words of encouragement, and take a good long look at the constants in our lives. The people, the places, the familiar, whatever that safe place to land may be, listen for when it calls.
Rest areas – who thinks of them as anything but places where a bunch of stiff-legged people join the parade of pajama pants and flip flops, and spend a precious twenty minutes using the restrooms, getting a burger, filling up the gas tank and get back in the saddle again? To all the dear people in my world who pursue their dreams, who tirelessly serve others, or who long for their broken hearts to heal, I say this: These rest areas are well-deserved and well-placed, so take advantage of them. Then, when the time is right, merge back into traffic, maintain a safe speed, and don’t pass up a chance to stop again; sometimes sooner is better than later.
In August of 2013, an edited version of this essay appeared in the Buffalo News.