Sunday, May 04, 2014

The road ahead

I guess I've always had a problem with finding my way in the world.

I like to think it was easier before the Internets, when all a person had to do was ask for directions. Invariably you'd be passed around until the person with the best skills for such a thing could be found.

That person would ask you if you had a pen, and wait for you to get one before taking you on a ride, in your mind, along a series of roads so perfectly clear you could almost see the destination before you even got behind the wheel.

It was a combination of familiarity and trust.

“Go about 55 miles East on the turnpike. Turn left at the last intersection. Travel until you see some road sign and bear right at the enormous chicken. We're the third house on the left. You can't miss us.”

The real ride, however, isn't usually the clear path you think it will be. There's always some important step (or several) that I trip over.

“Go about 55 miles East (which is East again). Turn left at the intersection (what exit?). Travel until you see some road sign (that was stolen by some undergrads last summer) and bear right at the enormous chicken (which bears a striking resemblance to a cow). We're the third house on the left. You can't miss us (if you are looking on your OTHER left).”

Maybe I'd just written it down wrong? No matter. It wasn't a big deal. Ordinarily, I'd arrive on time and without getting terribly lost. 

The return trip would always bedevil me, too.

Getting from Point B to Point A is never as straight backward as it seems. When backtracking, I usually meander around the alphabet for a while before I find the off ramp.

I find real life, like directions, is like that, too.

No matter how you prepare, you're never really ready for the roadblocks the universe (and spring construction) plunk down in your way.

You could be driving down a road you've driven down your entire adult life, merging into traffic with the same careful practice you've always used, only to become confused by a new sign and a dirt road that weren't there before.

In the millisecond your awareness of this change charges through the gentle fog of your thoughts -- which, up until that moment, had allowed you to drive most of the way on automatic pilot -- you panic.

There is a sign for my turn. Wait ... this doesn't look right. Is this a detour?

What do I do?

On the road ahead, the pickup truck takes the path less traveled.

Of course, I follow.

Almost immediately I know that I was mistaken.

Cars ahead of the truck keep going up the ramp and take the right I should have taken. They cross the bridge I should have crossed.

The road I'm on leads to a construction site, with bulldozers on either side of me making level ground. The truck I followed disappears into a cloud of dust and parks.

I can't stop myself from thinking about how stupid I am … how incredibly short-sighted and ineffective. How much I don't want to be here. Now … or ever.

And how much I want to cry.

The man on the bulldozer smiles as I roll down my window. He doesn't seem as surprised to see me as I am to see him.

He doesn't care that I am a fool.

He gives me simple directions:

“Just turn around and go out the way you came in. Then take a right.”

I hate to admit it, but I did cry after I took that right and merged back into traffic.

It occurred to me that life can be a lot like my unfortunate detour. The road ahead isn't nearly as complicated at it seems, but that doesn't make our travels any easier.

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