The journey of life and love and faith is supposed to progress along a clear freeway on a perfect summers day, in a German car on auto-cruise.
It is meant to move smoothly and predictably in a fairly straight line from A to B, guided by an inbuilt GPS, sipping cappuccinos and listening to David Bowie.
We realise that the sun will eventually set, but it is expected to do so at the precise point where the highway intersects the horizon, at the perfect moment when the jangly guitars of Space Odyssey begin: “This is Ground Control to Major Tom, You’ve really made the grade”. The stars will start to shine, and this whole heavenly explosion of light and colour and music will take our breath away.
Unfortunately, we discover quite quickly that the journey upon which we have embarked is actually leading us along arduous, circuitous country lanes, through variable conditions, in a French car with a dodgy radio and an unreliable GPS on muck-spreading day.
For entire weeks we suspect we are heading in the wrong direction. The only radio station we can pick up is playing experimental Jazz.
We plunge into valleys so deep that the sun is obscured from the sky and then, occasionally, unexpectedly crest hills round bends and suddenly see the shining road miles ahead. But only for a few fleeting moments, until we descend again into the twists and turns of the valley below.
People leave the road altogether. Lost in its tangled arterial system, they conclude that it’s getting them nowhere.
Others determine to defy these treacherous lanes by driving fast and straight, until inevitably they crash and burn.
But a few perverse pilgrims persevere. They learn to read old-fashioned paper maps, and to cherish the unexpected views around each unpredictable turn. They even learn to appreciate experimental jazz and the vagueries of French engineering. In short, they learn to relax and enjoy the absurdity of the journey without always having to be right, or in charge, or in front, or efficient.
We have seen the ones broken down by the side of the road, cursing and kicking their cars. And the ones reversing and furiously traversing off-road in search of another way. And the ones driving the winding lanes at suicidal speeds, honking angrily at those who are slow.
And we have seen the old folks in their Renaults and their Peugeots and their 2-CV’s, smiling and waving at the shiny, German cars speeding past, laughing at the dents in their own vehicle (kicked more than once), pausing and pointing regularly at the latest view, enthusing often about the relative merits of bebop, avant-garde and European Free jazz (as if they’d never even heard of Bowie or The Beatles or Bach’s Mass in B Minor).
Their GPS is off. The map is buried somewhere on the back seat. It’s as if they have reached their destination already while still in motion. It’s as if the journey itself has become their greatest joy.