There is a very interesting paradox found in one of those spots that people in American Geography like to visit. On a banyan lined street, under an almost eternal sun, can be found the Island of Key West. Mecca for alcohol craving Midwestern tourists and sexually compulsive gay men alike—Key West seems a monument to the polar opposites of our nature. A few steps from Sloppy Joes Bar sits an amazingly beautiful Episcopal Church—in a city surrounded by water that had to rely (until 1942) on the rains to provide its drinking water—the drops filling the cisterns with freshwater just steps from an ocean who’s salt makes it about as healthy to drink as gasoline.This penultimate expression of the yin and yang; the Roosevelt and Reagan; the Yankees and the Red Sox—well, it exists on a street sign. Not just any street sign—but THE street sign. The beginning of US 1—one of America’s greatest roads. A strip of Seven-Eleven Hot-dogs; pawn shops; Sonic drive ins; cookie-cutter gas stations and traffic lights that snakes along two thousand miles of pavement from this very spot all the way to the Maine-Canada border.
The idea is simple—NORTH. Forever, permanent, towards something better. A higher place. NORTH. Explore, Grow, Expand—NORTH. In another time, the same idea was expressed by a different road—one that would lead settlers and Okies and dreamers through the middle west and the desert to the land of Southern California. Route 66 and US-1 occupy a place in some distant dream of getting from where we are (not so good) to someplace different, and thereby better.The entire American premise was built on this concept. Except there were no roadside petting zoos, or mini-golf, or Waffle Houses on the first version of this journey. It was made on rickety ships, across an ocean of fierce waves—and towards the same place. Even if it didn’t have exactly the same coordinates on a map. Or even if that map was largely yet undrawn.
Standing here, while the Conch Train tourists ride by and the sound of distant Jimmy Buffet Songs flows across humid breezes—you come to learn that North is really, well, it is SOUTH. Quite clearly, where US 1 begins its journey, the street goes for several blocks in quite the opposite direction.I suppose this should come as no great shock. That on this narrow hard-ground land of alcohol and sex and ticket takers willing to mock you for travelling alone everything is subject to revision upon further review. And such is the same with our beloved highway—and our lives. That in order to go North—in order to follow our history—our dreams—our destiny—we must first travel south, if not also east, west, up down and all spots in between. No matter our love for Maps or the placid tones of our GPS, even their directions can only hint at the real journey. At the real way forward. The compass constantly spinning, we end up having to focus on the one place in all the travel that does not move—ourselves.
For generations we have sought out fertile fields, freedom, and countless other things—at the end of some road. Or on the other side of an ocean. In the arms of that one person who will give to us our missing piece; in the style of a new high-priced car; or the high-powered weapon that will provide the security you so desperately seek—but that still proves elusive.But in the end, we come back to the same place. South is north, or north is south—or better is really just more of the same. And any idea of success being—over there—or with that special thing—well, it is proved fleeting at best and, mostly, if not entirely, a myth. At that moment we are at last forced to visit the place we were really trying to escape all along.
In the quiet of this Christmas Season, I encourage you to follow along on your own map and see where it leads. Possibly learn to trace the line back inside, into the places where things are better than you thought—were you are loved more than you realized- and can love more than you have ever known. After you have reflected on that, please take the time to share that part of you with those around you—provide to them what you have to offer. Not judgment, or even well intentioned advice—but simply words of encouragement and acceptance—and love.For it seems to be that in this world of roads where even the famous signs don’t really point the right way—only to the confusion of our souls and purpose reflected by our highways—that we could all use just a little guidance and support for we are simply travelers and we do not know where will be our journey’s end. But, while on our road, it is always good to help someone else on the road—even if we don’t know our south from our north.