Songs. They may be what most drivers listen to more than anything else in their working lives. They come, they go. Sometimes one takes you back to an exact time and place, like a soundtrack to a daydream. Somewhere between Vicksburg, Miss., and the Alabama line I heard three songs in a row that jumpstarted my thinking.
I realized the first one had come back to me quite regularly over the years, sometimes on the radio, sometimes just playing there in my head. It would return after three or four years, sometimes seven or eight. It’s a Neil Diamond song, not that I’m much of a fan of Neil these days. In it, he runs off a list of people who have something in common – they’re dead. People like Fanny Brice, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Humphrey Bogart, Genghis Khan, Ho Chi Mihn, Karl and Chico Marx, John Wilkes Booth, Alexander Graham Bell, Ramar Krishna, Patrice Lumumba, Edgar Allen Poe, Sholom Aleichem and Buster Keaton. Even Jesus. And a few more. Then he sings …
And each one there
Has one thing shared.
They have sweated
beneath the same sun,
Looked up in wonder
at the same moon,
And wept when it was all done
For bein’ done too soon,
For bein’ done too soon.
Maybe it’s not inevitable, but it seems to me it’s very likely that at the end of our lives we wish we had more time. I was thinking about that as the song ebbed, and I switched to a country station. There was Garth Brooks singing …
If tomorrow never comes
Will she know how much I loved her,
Did I try in every way, to show her every day,
That she’s my only one?
And if my time on earth were through
And she must face the world without me,
Is the love I gave her in the past
Going to be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes?
So tell that someone that you love
Just what you’re thinking of
If tomorrow never comes.
I started wondering how many times I’d heard that song and never done much about it. Next thing there’s old Toby Keith singing that what we need is “a little less talk and a lot more action.”
My wife always says things happen for a reason. Now I don’t believe I’d ever heard those three songs one after the other like that. Maybe I did and never noticed. This time I remembered them because later that day on National Public Radio I heard another old favorite. It’s not a real big highway hit. I doubt that’s it’s played more than once a year on any station. It’s by a fiery French singer who died in 1963 at the age of 47. As she was dying she dictated some memoirs that defiantly echoed one of her most famous songs. Her name was Edith Piaf and the song is “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien,” or as we’d say, “No, I Don’t Regret Anything.”
It was one of those moments clear as a crystal. Don’t let what you want to do and what you plan to do define you more than your actions. Don’t let years pass like miles. Don’t lazily let driving take up all of your heart and your mind. Sometimes that open road can mesmerize you. Then one day you’re rolling up your millionth mile and still dreaming the same unattended dreams that you did when the odometer was new. Even if it’s raining it’s a great day to do something. Don’t wait for some unmistakable, supersized signal. Don’t wait for the heavens to part and chariots of fire to swoop down on your rig trailing a message like a biplane over the Super Bowl telling you to do those things you’ve been thinking about doing, wanting to do, but just never seem to have gotten around to. There may be little signals. An odd-looking moonrise, a sun shower, a road sign to a place you’ve never heard of, a child who waves as you roll by or some songs that surprise you.
I went home and told my wife and son how much I loved them, called my mom and started writing something I’d put off for a lot of years with a lot of excuses. Like they say, it’s only too late if you don’t start today. n