Through the years, I have asked various people one of my favorite questions: “Did you ever want to run away?”. I have gotten all kinds of responses, but a singular characteristic of them all was, to some degree or other, in the affirmative.

I worked with this guy once down in Baton Rouge in a chemical plant where tetraethyl lead was made. It was an extremely volatile and toxic substance that was added to gasoline. We were having a smoke about 3 AM in a designated area. I said to him, Dub – not his real name, of course – you ever want to run away? He looked at me and said quite enthusiastically, “EVERY DAY!”

He went on to say that each working day, as he drove to work, he had this strong urge to keep on driving north on highway 61 rather than taking a left turn down that mile long road toward the Mississippi where we worked at Ethyl Corporation. I confessed that I had that exact same urge. Neither of us had much from which to escape. Good families. Nice cars. Comfortable homes. And we talked about that.

What was it then? About half way through our second cigarette – we always managed two in our fifteen minute smoking break – we both decided that what was at the root of our daily angst was our truly meaningless work. Neither of us felt that what we were doing was all that important. It paid well and there was a certain amount of security. I mean, what do we tell our grandkids? We made antiknock compound so your car wouldn’t make noise going down the road? The thought did not inspire me. We both had a good laugh about that as we went back to our unit.

We thought we must have made a wrong turn somewhere back there and so every day we entertained the fantasy that if we just had a chance to begin life again we could do it better. We would find meaningful work to do. Happiness. Contentment.

Three years into that job, I quit and took my toddling family off to college. That’s the kind of impossible stuff one does when one is young. I never knew what happened to Dub. There were times in the years ahead that I didn’t know what had happened to me. I did look for meaningful work and found what I considered, at the time, to be just that. I’m not as sure now as I was then.

There is no question about it: there are situations from which it is wise to escape. A demeaning job. A demeaning relationship. A demeaning attitude. Some of us have experienced such life altering exits. Most of us have passed that left turn into meaninglessness and stayed on Route 61 North, at one time or another. For a few miles it’s liberating. Then your baggage catches up. Your mail gets forwarded. Unless you are in the Federal Witness Protection Program, your identity stays with you, however you want to interpret that.

The only fix for this unrest is finding something to do that brings meaningful peace and joy. Happiness. It may not be profitable. “Meaningful” doesn’t have to mean money. I actually never heard of money being the root of all meaning. It doesn’t have to be trendy. Who cares what the temporarily famous thinks or does? For most of us, what we are doing now is it. If you add up all the days of your life, the total amounts to what life is today.

I’d love to be able to change some of the numbers in my past. You know, make today’s total different and maybe better. Waste of time. Instead, for now, I think I’ll have a cup of herbal tea and a cookie. I’ll open my Robert Crais thriller and settle in for the evening. How’s that for the meaning of life?

1 Comment

  1. Rick Henderson

    Good post Dad. We’ve all thought of running away. Maybe I did by staying.

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