"I don't want to be a passenger in my own life" - Diane Ackerman
I have an immediate sense of what this quote means, but does it hold up on thinking about it more closely? She is talking, I think, about taking control. About not being passive. Being a passenger conjures up images of those long family trips, children in the back seat of the car saying "Are we nearly there yet?" Of course, they had little say over where "there" might be - and they may have no clear idea of where "there" is going to be when they get there. It was mum and dad who chose.
The other night at our quilt group we had an inspiring speaker: an embroiderer who for the past twentyfive years has been cycling around Europe. No, not non-stop! But each year at least, she takes a trip for around two months at a time, staying in camping grounds, alone, and seeing whatever she pleases when she pleases. She is free to travel at the speed she wants and stop when she wants.
Being a passenger means giving up that control over our lives. But who is in total control, really? The most independent minded person - one who is self-employed, who lives alone,who never asks or receives favours from anyone, still depends on a vast number of other people for their existence. They are not independent of the laws of the land. They are not independent of the laws of nature. They can't always dictate their physical health. They rely on those who produce the goods in the shops, who do the medical research, who get the oil out of the ground and transport it, and many many more. And it's lonely, living alone. We might want companions - but we can't make all the decisions for them. As soon as we share our lives with someone else we have to give up some of the control.
It's good to be a passenger sometimes. When I head to the UK next year I'll be a passenger in the plane that takes me there. That's my decision. I don't want to sail a yacht around the world. When we get there I'll be a passenger in the car much of the time while my husband drives. Of course, we'll probably share. But you can see more if you're not concentrating on the driving. If I went alone I could make all the decisions about what to see, instead of only some of them. But I don't want to go alone. So I give up some control for companionship, and someone to rely on in case of difficulty. If we didn't plan to drive, we could use trains and buses and guided tours. Passengers again.
There are many kinds of passengers. Those who go through life trying to avoid decisions altogether, like the children in the back seat of the car. Will they recognise "there" when they arrive? And there are those who make decisions which shape the course of their lives, like those who board the plane for the round the world trip. They may give up control, but it is because they think they know where that decision will take them. And sometimes they might even buy a ticket for a mystery trip, not knowing where they are headed, but sure it will shake up their lives a little.
We are all passengers much of the time. Which sort of passenger are you?
More Sunday Scribblings here.