Upon hearing many recommendations and reading various quotes from the novel “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, I took it upon myself to read it at the beginning of this past spring semester. And still, despite hearing many of many friends argue about how great the book is, I cannot for all of me understand their adoration.
“On The Road,” was originally written on a 120-foot scroll, and is often considered a symbol of the Beat Generation. The book is credited to reveal the rationality behind those otherwise seen as aimless people, while simultaneously motivating others to step into lives of mobility.
When I first started reading the book, I was impressed by a number of phrases and excerpts that hinted at profundity. “On the Road,” after all, is often quoted for its incredible adeptness at articulating thoughts and emotions that would otherwise be intangible. And yet, as I continued reading, the pleasure I got from the descriptions of fleeting emotional thoughts began to sink and transform into boredom and an inability to empathize.
You see, “On the Road” epitomizes an approach to life that I cannot endure. It dances around existentialism and praises spontaneity. It sings at the idea of living just to exist, without purpose, without destination. Characters in the book appear and disappear, claiming that they have no idea where they’re going or why, but that the reason is trumped by the fact that they are going at all.
Perhaps I’m too much of a tight-ass, but I cannot submit to this kind of lifestyle.
I believe most strongly that people have more of a purpose in life than to simply exist. I believe that we are all made differently, have varied paths and futures and thoughts not only to create diversity but because we were designed for specific purposes.
Maybe this is just a desperate attempt at justifying my being alive. I once had a three-hour conversation with a stranger, who claimed that we have just landed in life accidentally, and that any attempt to define why only comes from an inner fear that we have worked hard and have struggled thus far for naught.
Honestly, I see the romantic lure of his mindset. The characters depicted in “On The Road” seem to live with so much passion and without any purpose at all. They rush forward without knowing where they are going, just because they enjoy the giddy feeling that accompanies it. It sounds rather marvelous, to an extent. But realistically, if I spent my entire life living like that, I would undoubtedly find myself sitting in an arm chair in old age, wondering what I have done with my life.
Granted, life cannot be an endless series of goals and far off ambitions; there have to be moments in which we can lay back in the grass and just exist for a minute. I am not arguing against one’s potential to enjoy life. But the days spent on my back in the grass cannot contain all it’s charm unless it’s juxtaposedagainst those days with direction and purpose.
Berkeley students are all too familiar with people who have picked up all of their stuff, and moved out to live aimlessly on the streets, panhandling when the need arises, smoking when the weed’s available and existing together with others who have followed the same calling. These people are abundant in number on Telegraph, sitting together in groups. And yet, even in the conversations that I have with the people who have chosen this lifestyle — what they call being “street kids” — they have ambitions that they don’t quite recognize as ambition.
Many of my friends live with this mindset. They ask me why I can’t just stop striving and enjoy where I am. And I get where they’re coming from. What I want them to see though is that discovering life’s purpose is “living a little” — in fact, it’s living a lot. I want to simultaneously acknowledge that my life is short and just one in a billion, but that even with one life I can do things, change things, influence others and be influenced.
Everyone, to an extent, strives for a purpose. It’s what we use to define ourselves. Undoubtedly, as a UC Berkeley student, you must have some kind of drive to get where you are now. There must be some part in you that is looking for a purpose. A purpose to learn, perhaps, or a purpose to simply get rich. Regardless, it’s so easy to lose sight of why we’re trying so hard. Don’t lose sight, though. Enjoy life on the road, but recognize that all roads lead somewhere.