Reflections from the Winding Road

How did you get here? What glitch in the GPS accounts for this increasingly twisted route that once seemed so direct and predictable?

You’re not quite sure where you are, but wherever it is, it’s nowhere on the map. At least not on the map you were given back when the journey began. Back when everything was planned with precision. Back before your unmistakable sense of purpose and potential fell out of the trunk and left you with so many damn questions.

Things felt so much simpler back then. The lines were straight. The path was smooth. No ambiguity or indecision. You knew where you were going. You gripped the wheel and looked straight ahead. Everyone else on the road applauded your good judgment for traveling the same direction as them. A bright future was paved out ahead of you.

But then came that first curve in the road. You hadn’t been expecting it, and it slowed you down just enough to look around and wonder: Where am I? Where am I going? Why am I going there?

That first moment of taking your eyes off the double yellows, of looking around at the scenery, of noticing the side roads splitting off in all different directions — that changed everything. One curve led to another, and before you knew it, you got here. Wherever here happens to be.

Looking around, you try your best to take stock of your surroundings. The place feels a bit wild and untamed. Landmarks you don’t recognize, landscapes you’ve never seen. Your best guess is that you’re miles deep in some unknown forest on a gravel logging road that hasn’t seen another vehicle in years. But you’re still trying to get your bearings, and all you really know for sure is that you’re a long way from where you started.

And again you wonder: How did you get here?

Some people back on the straight and narrow say it’s because of doubt. You had too many questions, and you started asking the wrong ones. They remind you that the road signs they posted told you exactly where you were supposed to go. If only you would have followed them.

Others say you got here because of disillusionment. They realize you got burned a time or two, and they sure are sorry about that. But you really shouldn’t trust your experiences, you know. A little trauma is hardly a justifiable reason to rethink your route.

What they all agree on is that your departure from their hallowed path is a defection. Their maps can’t account for your current location, and so they’re left to assume that you’ve gone rogue. That you’ve lost your way. Their eyes betray their disappointment in you. They sigh and shake their heads mournfully and assure you they’ll be praying for your speedy return.

And yet, returning is the one thing you know you won’t be doing.

Here in the wilderness, you’ve stumbled upon something unexpectedly compelling. You’re not sure you could explain it to them if they asked. (And if they’d ever stop criticizing, they might indeed think to ask.) But perhaps the best word for it is mystery. Profound, transcendent mystery. Deep within the uncertainty is a beauty and a hopefulness you never knew before. With every turn and switchback, you’ve discovered a new intricacy that absorbs your imagination, a new expansiveness that stirs your soul.

This mystery has led you to a place of openness that you now realize you’d been avoiding for far too long. The guardrails that once fenced you in are gone. You’re free to search, and in this searching you have been found. It’s okay to hit the brakes, it’s okay to use your turn signal. With every course correction, you’re finding yourself inching a tiny bit closer to a place of transformative love.

You’re traveling more slowly these days. Slow enough to watch and wonder and soak it all in. Slow enough to witness the universe coming to life all around you, revealing colors you were once blind to, melodies you couldn’t previously hear.

But you’re also going slow enough to get frustrated. To feel vulnerable. To become more familiar with the words, “I don’t know” than you ever wanted to be. You’d be lying if you said you weren’t a little bit impatient.

And that makes you think: Perhaps it would be simpler if the journey hadn’t gone this direction. Perhaps there’s a superficial appeal to being able once again to set the cruise control at 75 on a familiar stretch of Midwestern interstate, zipping past exit signs you don’t even bother to look at. Those roads were safe and familiar. It’s impossible not to long for them sometimes.

But in spite of the fears, in spite of the regrets, in spite of the countless worried looks in the rearview mirror, wondering if you should turn back, you are here. And here is where you should be.

As convenient as it might be to navigate back to that place of simplicity, it’s simply not an option. The bridges behind you can no longer support the weight of the insights and experiences you’ve accumulated along the way. You’d never make it back in one piece. And that’s okay. Those old streets have nothing left for you anyway.

But you don’t despise them. Because those streets are the ones that brought you here. That right you took on Broadway. That left on 22nd. You’re learning to honor those turns, along with every stop, every detour, every side street, every traffic jam.

Part of learning to be present where you are, you’ve discovered, is cultivating gratitude for where you’re not. And so even on your darkest days, you try to appreciate where you’ve come from even as you celebrate where you’re going.

You’re not sure what comes next. But you know that you’ll keep leaning into the curves. The winding road invites you onward, and onward you will go.

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