1. life, after all

photo taken march 29, 2008. New York City subway, waiting for the Q train.

Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

Life happens. That’s the only way to look at it without being too hard on yourself. There are things you do in life - paths you walk, choices you make, turns you take - that sometimes seem like the good thing, the right thing at the time, but in retrospect were absolutely the wrong thing. And the funny thing about following the wrong paths and making the wrong choices and taking the wrong turns is when you are in the act of doing them, you mostly know somewhere in the deep recess of your mind that it’s not right. A small alarm goes off, or a whispered voice in your head tries to warn you, but you dismiss that and think to yourself, no path is every going to be perfect, so let’s just take the one we are on and ignore the brambles and sharp stones and hope for the best.

As you walk further down the path, you see that it’s not really anything like you first though. It’s darker, rockier, strewn with debris and there are so many things impeding the path that the effort you have to put forth to get even ten feet down the way is monumental and you think often about just giving up. But you don’t. Because you don’t want anyone to see you giving up. You don’t want to appear weak, or worse, wrong. You don’t want to admit that you took a wrong turn, because you spent so much time convincing everyone you were absolutely headed the right way, that you needed no help with directions, let alone a borrowed map from anyone who has been down the same path. No, you were going to do this on your own and show everyone that your path was the good one, the right one.

So when the skies darken and the storms start, you point to the lightning and say, see look at all the light on this path. And when the rocks become sharp beneath your feet and cut into you, you pick up the one smooth stone and say see, this path isn’t so bad after all, even though you are trailing blood beneath your feet. And when the weeds begin to wrap around your legs and the tree branches scratch your face and the darkness seems to be suffocating, you plow on and only talk about the one flower that shoots up between the miles of weeds, the one branch that you are able to move out of the way. Are you lying or denying? You don’t know and don’t care. All that matters is staying on the path so you never, ever have to admit that you made the wrong turn.

Eventually even the most stubborn, defiant, in denial person will realize that the path is a dead end. Some people will still walk on, go straight up to that dead end and, like a toy car that meets up against a wall, keep revving the engine and spinning the tires and pushing, pushing, pushing as if the wall will give way to something, anything, besides the end of hope. Some people will recognize the wall just before they hit it and bail out before the impact.

Some see the dead end up ahead and stop short in their tracks. You recognize the place you are in. How? Because you had been staring straight ahead at it all along. Maybe your eyes wouldn’t focus on it or your conscious mind wouldn’t accept that what you were seeing was a huge, impenetrable wall, but it had been there all along. Then that small place in the back of your head where the alarms had been ringing, but muffled, where the sound system was pushing out warning signals, where the doubts and uncertainty had laid low, that place opens up and an explosion of light and awareness goes off like fireworks. The sound is deafening. And disheartening.

Here’s the thing about paths. I believe that every path we walk down in life, we walk down for a reason. Every rock we step on, every branch that hits us, every lightning strike and downpour, every fallen tree or weed-choked clearing is put in front of us with a purpose. The path you are on now is not necessarily going to be the only one you take. In fact, it’s more likely than not that you will change paths at least once. We all make wrong turns, wrong choices, go the wrong way. It’s how we learn and how we grow and we how we come to recognize the right path when we finally come upon it.

When you do come upon it, it’s like seeing for the very first time. It’s an awareness that makes every single step you took before this echo in your head in the middle of the night and make you wonder how you ever thought those steps were the right ones. It’s a flash of lightning that bathes everything you just left behind in a glaring light and you can see, finally, fully see, everything for what it was. Or wasn’t. It’s an awakening that leaves you feeling at times stupid, at times full of self loathing, but thankful for the fact that you at least woke up. You think, how could I have done that to myself? How could I allow myself to think that was the right path, the right way? How could have been so naive, so stupid, so willfully in denial that I was taking every wrong turn one could possibly take? How could I have cared so much about not admitting defeat, not admitting I made the wrong choice that I subjected myself to all of that?

Someone said to me recently, “you get what you tolerate.”

You get what you tolerate. Think about that.

So you stand now before the right path, the good path. You know it when you come upon it because you have learned. You know how to listen for the muffled alarms. You know how to stand stock still and listen for any signs of ill winds, how to search the sky for dark clouds, how to look for clawed branches and sharp rocks. You have learned. That path you just came from served at least that purpose.

Sometimes, if you are lucky, there’s another person standing before the new path who is willing to walk it with you. A person who knows that sometimes you are going to come upon the sharp rocks and whipping branches, but who is willing to help you move those things out of the way rather than let you fight them alone. A person who, like you, knows that whatever path you just came from was like walking through a nightmare, but the nightmare was a necessary road to take to get to this one. And, like you, they would relive all their pain and darkness and broken dreams again just to get to walk down this new path with you holding their hand.

Life happens. You may have to wait a long time for that to feel like a good thing, but when it does, it’s like waking up in a world you had no idea existed.

1 Comment so far

  1. Margi on October 26th, 2008

    My analogy was crawling over broken glass, but yours is way better.

    I have no adequate words but awesomesauce keeps flashing before my brain.

    Sorry. My teenager’s influence.

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