Walking with Tom: Saving Grace

There is a highway interchange that I drove multiple times a week over the course of six or so months. Each time I approached this particular interchange, my grip on the wheel would tighten. Closing in on the interchange where drivers are making last second decisions; praying to an unknown god they have chosen the appropriate lane to be in. I know the lane I need to be in; I have been in the lane I need to be in. My knee is shaking uncontrollably. In the midst of the interchange chaos ensues as some drivers continue to jockey for their lane; others are looking for the fastest way out of there; and still others are apparently lost. I feel like I am going to poop my pants. The color in my hands reveals I have a death grip on the steering wheel. Through the interchange safely. A deep breath and a sigh of relief. I feel light-headed as my grip relaxes and the shaking stops. Maybe it will be better tomorrow. It will not be better tomorrow…

Anxiety is a multiplier. Stir in even a little anxiety and something simple invariably becomes a chore. Stir in a lot of anxiety and it becomes something you want to avoid.

I’m passing sleeping cities
Fading by degrees

These are the opening lines to Tom Petty’s Saving Grace (from Highway Companion). Damn, if there ever was an opening line written specifically for me, there you have it. I do not, or more specifically, my anxiety does not, like traffic. I am the person on the road before most people consider getting out of bed. I am the road-tripper who purposefully slinks through a city at 3:00 AM, like a shadow that was never there. Those are my times; little to no traffic and music on the radio keeping me awake and alert.

This is what this song evokes. It’s a rockabilly tune that is built for driving across wide-open spaces or slipping through towns under the cover of darkness. But like any Petty song, there is more to it than that.

And it’s hard to say
Who you are these days
But you run on anyway
Don’t you, baby?
You keep running for another place
To find that saving grace

Sometimes when I hear this, I feel like Tom is calling me out. That maybe Tom has insight to my secret. Until recently, nobody outside of me and a doctor knew I suffer from anxiety. For me, in the before days and even now, each new town or each new location is a chance to start over or reinvent myself – if only for a day or a night. But in the end, it never sticks, because we are who we are.

The song, in its whole, reminds us of that. There is this sense of a weary traveler on autopilot. However, this person is also painfully aware of who or what he or she is. They know the latest facade will only last so long. But they carry on searching for something that cannot be.