Sitting on a bus the other day, I heard a little boy ask his mom, “Are we there yet?”
We’re on a downtown bus, I thought. How could a kid be asking, “Are we there yet?” on a bus that usually gets from here to “there” in less than an hour, no matter where “there” is. The phrase seemed out of place. It’s usually voiced by youngsters all pent up with anticipation, awaiting some exciting destination. The boy on the bus showed all the signs — anxiety, excitement, and anticipation — lots of it, as he waited for “there” to arrive.
As the boy and his mom stepped off the bus at an ordinary street corner, he grinned. He was finally “there.”
I settled back and thought of trips with our kids. Four of them. (Kids, not trips). Four different ages. Four different personalities. My husband and I planned our family trips around the kids, taking them to places we thought they’d want to see, giving them experiences we thought they should have. They responded with good memories, and contagious anticipation.
But like any parent who takes kids on trips, eventually we heard THE question. It doesn’t matter how many games you bring, snacks you pack, or electronics you provide. One of the kids is going to get bored, stare out the window at the unfamiliar passing scene, realize there’s a destination somewhere out there that he won’t recognize, and out pops the question, “Are we there yet?”
We’ve been driving through the middle of some forsaken, barren, desert place where nothing dies but cactus and time, and a kid will ask, “Are we there yet?” I’ve been tempted at those moments to pull the car over, put it in park, turn off the key, and say, “Yes, we are there,” just to see the look of horror on their faces.
The question begs a question: Where is “there?” On trips with the kids, “there” is a specific, sought-after destination. When you reach Disneyland or Yellowstone or Mt. Rushmore, the castle, the geyser, or the giant stony faces are proof that, “We’re there!” But even then, “there” becomes several “there’s.” You don’t actually live in Disneyland when you get “there.” You park the car in the parking lot and go make yourselves sick on the rides. But then you stay in a hotel outside of Disneyland, eat at restaurants, and spend time downtown. So “there” becomes several sub-there’s, and no wonder the kids keep asking the question. We keep moving the “there.”
The boy on the bus inspired me. I posted “Are we there yet?” notes above the kitchen sink, on bathroom mirrors, on my computer, and car dashboard. At random moments I stare at the words and wonder again, “Are we there yet?”
The “we” is usually just me, asking myself if I’ve arrived at the point where I thought I’d be by now. (This is how I spend my deeper thinking moments.) So far the answer has been No. Curiously, there’s an immediate mix of relief and sadness, as though I want to be “there,” but then what?
Sometimes the “we” means the whole human population, meaning, “Have we figured out how to coexist on this planet yet.” So far, the answer is still, “No. We have a long way to go.”
Still, we ask ourselves the question as a kind of measuring point. How we perceive the answer depends on where we begin. Newlyweds think they’ve finally arrived at their “there,” not realizing they’re at the beginning — not the end — of their biggest journey yet.
Kids head off to school — kindergarten or college — wondering what “there” will look like. Good grades? Good friends? Good experiences?
The kids are finally married off and we think we’re “there,” even as we notice an emptiness creeping in, threatening to steal joy from the journey. We retire and go on vacation, unknowingly looking for our new “there.” Retirement looks suspiciously like trips of younger years.
I suspect heaven will be like that. We’ll walk through some door and realize where we are. We’ll ask “Are we there yet?” and hope the answer is Yes.
That may be the only moment in our existence when we’ll answer with certainty.