One way only. No U-turn. Keep right. Merge.
If only life were as simply directed as our city streets and freeways, with reflective signs clearly spelling out the course ahead.
Marriage: 5 years ahead.
Proceed with caution: mother-in-law’s 50th birthday.
Career advancement offered, next two exits.
Do Not Enter: Fight with spouse.
To have the choices and the consequences spelled out in black and white, and sometimes in caution yellow, would definitely help in avoiding the more painful wrong turns.
Like the photograph above illustrates, people are moving rapidly in all directions, pursuing their careers, their dreams, the next big deal or break-through, or visiting far-off loved ones. An airport is the epitome of choice, in a way, because depending upon which plane you board, you could end up across the country or even around the world. Destinations are usually decided upon well in advance, and care is taken in buying the ticket, planning the route and the lay-overs and the departure and arrival times.
Suppose life were as laid out as an airport, even one so convoluted as LAX or O’Hare; we would surely be more prepared for what awaits, or at least have fewer excuses for being lost.
Being lost in life seems to be a common affliction. We emphasize to high students the importance of settling on a career path, choosing the right college, or working toward a degree that will optimize this certain occupation of their choice. What line of work best suits them? Provides the best income? Utilizes their strengths and skills? Makes them come alive?
Yet, with all the student counseling and career aptitude placing, many college graduates go on to live life with barely a nod toward the degree they spent four years earning. Life just didn’t work out like they assumed it would. With the ink still wet on that degree, there were no jobs available in that field; or the student realized it wasn’t an area of interest to them, at least not enough to invest in for the next 25 years.
They hit a traffic round-about in the highway of life. You know, those circles that channel the flow of vehicles all in one direction, intending for you to take the correct street out of the handful of choices leading you off the loop? When we lived in Bend, those supremely inconvenient roundels popped up here and there on routes we commonly drove, and they were a constant source of irritation to me. I would rather come to a full stop at a stop sign, than be forced to drive in a circle.
There is one such traffic trap in Bakersfield, only this one is worse than any I encountered in Bend. This particular round-about has double lanes. It’s enough to give me nightmares, imagining being stuck in the inside lane, destined to drive around the statue in the center for the rest of my life, pinned there by the flow of cars in the outer lane, unable to launch out of the circle pattern and choose any of the streets that ray out like spokes on a wheel.
(Just for the fun of it, permanent roommate did that with our girls one day in Bend. Instead of exiting the silly traffic circle, he stayed on and made several complete rotations, while the girls squealed and giggled and I sat in the passenger seat with a lot less evidence of pleasure on my face.)
Traffic roundels are great examples for the complications we encounter in life. Choose the right exit, it’s a straight shot to where you want to go. The wrong one will take you on a merry detour. And get stuck on the inside lane, doing nothing but driving the circle, and there you are years later, out of gas, but still circling the roundel.
So where am I going?
The choices I make today will impact how that all plays out ahead. The roads I’m traveling, the planes I’m boarding, the roundels I circle for far too long all affect my destination. How much time I spend investing in others, how often I look beyond myself, and what place of importance I grant the ideas or objects that I claim to cherish will all tell in the end, and weigh in on where I’ll end up.
Before I can get where I want to go, I need to first decide where that is. Then I must take the necessary steps to get there: plan for my journey, pack my bags (but not too many), and invite along my fellow travelers, the ones who will be making this trip with me. I need to meet the departure dates and times, practice patience and offer encouragement when opportunities arise, and be aware of the others who are also passing through this life, en route to destinations of their own. And of course, if the experiences along the way are half the package deal, then time must be taken to pause, appreciate, breathe, and do touristy stuff.
This entire trip, from the cradle to the grave may be spent merely wandering, but as Tolkien said, “Not all who wander are lost.” It may be occupied with pit stops along the way, never making a lot of progress, but not merely spinning our wheels either. It may be that we circle the roundel, incapable of making a choice or unable to get to the route we’ve chosen, (please, God, no! ). It may be full speed ahead on the on-ramp, a straight shot in the fast lane, with no exits and no time for sightseeing. It may be a gentle meandering on country roads, arriving via the scenic route.
However we get there, at some point we will all arrive somewhere. It would be wise for each one of us to take sufficient time to ask where we are going, and then take the proper steps to plan our route, the one that meets individual needs and strengths; prioritizes our fellow travelers, the extravagant beauty along the way, and the capacity for love and adventure and life; and with time, gets us where we really want to go.