I Think “Broken” Roads Have Gotten A Bad Rap!

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Anyone who’s taken a vacation lately, whether by air, sea or ground, knows that no matter how carefully they plan, there are any number of untoward things that can (and, more often than not, do) happen before they reach their intended destination. Maybe it’s nothing more than encountering an accident en route to the place of departure, being unable to find a convenient place to park the car at the airport or seaport, an inordinately long line at the ticket counter or TSA security checkpoint that threaten to make us late for or even miss our flight or being relegated to the dreaded “middle seat” in a cross-country or trans-Atlantic flight. Sometimes, however, the obstacle is far more disruptive: finding out that our flight is “overbooked” and that we’re the odd man out or, worse yet, that it is hopelessly delayed or has been cancelled due to a mechanical or other problem and that the next flight won’t be leaving until the following day. And then there are the difficulties on the “arriving” end: the lost or damage luggage, the interminable wait for the curbside rental car shuttle in the searing heat, being hassled by a Customs agent or maybe even discovering that in your hurry to leave you left a piece of luggage in the middle of your living room floor (don’t judge me!!!).

And yet, except for the most impatient and intolerant of us (I would be included in that group!), we hardly give those “bumps in the road” much thought, let alone allow the prospect of encountering them keep us from leaving the house! To the contrary, though some aggravation is inevitable (it’s part of being human), we tend to take such things in stride. Why? I suspect it’s because we have a clear “picture” of what our final destination will look and feel like – and, in the end, that’s all that really matters to us. Maybe it’s a lounge chair, the shade of a well-positioned umbrella, a good book (or 3), a white sandy beach and the hypnotizing sound of the waves lapping the shoreline. Maybe it’s the warm smile and never-want-to-let-you-go embrace of a friend, a lover or a family member that you haven’t seen in weeks, months or years. Maybe it’s the top of a mountain, pristinely groomed trails cut through spectacular forest and the peace that comes with them. Maybe it’s the chance to check another item off your “bucket list” or the solitude of a cabin in the wilderness far away from the electronic tethers that tie you to a life you’d just as soon leave behind. Whatever “it” is, my sense is that knowing that “it’s” waiting for us that makes the whatever-it-takes-to-get-there piece endurable.

What’s curious to me, however, is that we are far less tolerant when it comes to our life journeys. Despite the fact that they are infinitely more complex and immeasurably longer in duration than any “vacation” will ever be, consciously or subconsciously we expect them to be mostly “bump” free – that the pathways leading to where we think we should end up will be straight, smooth, and relatively easy to navigate. When they’re not, we are quick to assume the worst, paint a doomsday scenario, grow bitter, lose our sense of direction, become paralyzed with fear and, on occasion, give up. Why? I’m sure there’s a complex psychological explanation, but for me it’s relatively “simple”: In life, unlike a vacation, we don’t have a clear picture of how our final destination will look. Maybe if we did, we’d be more accepting of what we deem to be the “broken” pieces, see them for what they are, understand that their role in our lives is to strengthen, rather than defeat us, guide, rather than divert us. Here’s a truth: Some of the most incredible people I know are products of a “broken” road and as much as I ache for the pain they had to endure en route to their “knowing” hearts, I know to a woman (and a man) none would trade those hearts or the heartache that shaped them for a less “adventurous” path.

A few months ago, my wife and I traveled to Manhattan, Kansas to celebrate our son’s graduation from Kansas State University. As is often the case when my son and I get together, which, regrettably is not as often as either of us would like these days, a golf outing is a must and that trip was no exception. Midway through what was a drizzly and unseasonably cold round at Colbert Hills, Greg turned to me and said, “Dad, I know I didn’t take the straightest or simplest road to get here and I certainly made more than my share of ‘wrong’ turns along the way, many of which I regret and am sorry for, but I have to tell you, I wouldn’t trade where I am right now for anything in the world. I’m right where I want to be – and I’m happy!” I smiled (inside and out) glad that the rain offered the cover it did for the tears streaming down the sides of my face. I’d like to think exceptional parenting was the birthplace of those words, but I know better. I know it was “the road” – the “less traveled one” that Frost so insightfully described so many years ago. Still, I was no less proud, indeed more so, of him and the fact that he not only “got it” – he did it in ½ the time it’s taken his dad.

Wishing all of you safe (and adventuresome) travels!

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