A ferocious blizzard was pummeling the car, threatening to send us tumbling into unknown peril. Aside from a few yards on each side, our surroundings were rendered invisible by a forbidding wall of relentless snow. Only a series of regularly-spaced poles marking the sides of the road served to guide our tentative advance. White knuckles held fast to the steering wheel; pulses raced; held breath escaped in gasps of relief. The very real possibility of not surviving the day filled the air, demanding an attention that left no room for random thought.
Today, a couple of months removed from the experience and with my proclivity for random thought now fully restored, my mind wanders in and out of a metaphor. That recent, dangerous path tells the story of another journey. Of a career. Of a life.
It had started as a wide-eyed adventure into a world full of possibility. More recently, however, the path I am on occasionally disappears from view. I try to look into the distance – into the future – but I cannot see beyond the next, infrequent roadside pole approaching from out of the darkness. Simultaneously, the poles serve to warn me to proceed with caution and to reassure me that I remain on course.
And so I continue.
I tell myself that if only I can be patient, if I don’t take unnecessary risks, if I just keep my head down and focus on the task directly ahead, the promised destination will eventually be reached. I may get there later than I had hoped and it may not look exactly as I imagined – it may not even be where I thought it would be – but each turn of the wheels moves me relentlessly towards it.
My concentration is singular, erasing all possibilities that may lie beyond the narrow confines of today’s urgent task. I am oblivious to the world around me as time slips stealthily past.
Shortly, with a mixture of surprise and despair, I realize I am closer to the end of the journey than to its beginning. I have successfully navigated a treacherous road and, along the way, accumulated the experience I will need to steer a course through the dangers that still lie ahead, but suddenly it is 30 miles – or 30 years – later, and now it is too risky to turn back.
The question compels me to reflect on the decisions that got me to this point. I recall the countless alternative paths not taken. I think of all of the fleeting opportunities that were disappearing in my rear view mirror before I had time to react.
Of course, there is no guarantee I would have fared any better on a different path or that the conditions ahead of me would have improved. It is entirely possible that what appeared to be a promising diversion may just have been a dead end.
And then it occurs to me.
I did make a choice. I almost missed the turning, but an impulsive decision sent me down my unexpected path, my risky path – and I wasn’t blown off course to get there. I chose it consciously, willingly, with not the slightest idea of where it would lead, but with the certain knowledge that only the regret of missed opportunity awaited me in the other direction.
As caution to the wind, I decided to throw myself in front of whatever challenges the journey may present – and to revel in each experience. I knew, at any moment, that forces beyond my control may send me crashing into the unknown. And I was OK with that.
I am older now. My propensity to take risks has diminished, but still enjoys an occasional flourish. I have been made wiser, more by the trail of mistakes that extends behind me than by the recollection of sporadic success. I have been made stronger by a woman, my life’s love, met by chance when our individual, risky paths converged in an unexpected place.
And I have a perspective that I didn’t anticipate when I started this journey.
My once, all-consuming career path has itself been consumed by a life path; a path that refuses to be measured by the hours spent in the office or by my reaction to temporary, insignificant urgencies.
Instead, it is measured by moments of laughter unrestrained, of sadness overcome, of love reciprocated. Above all, it is measured in the unparalleled joy of shared experiences; that random collection of memories – some spectacular, many inconsequential, all uniquely ours – that combine to tell a story of lives lived.
And the journey continues. There will be more impulsive turns and surprising outcomes. Occasionally, we will depend on roadside poles to guide the way. Yet, the closer we move to where we thought the destination would be, the more we realize there is no destination.
For there is no arrival. It’s all about the journey.
29th March 2018
This article was inspired by a road trip around Iceland in November 2017. The stories of that journey – supplemented by photos and one scary video – can be found via the following links: