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"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy, permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." ~Jack London

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

I have taken this road more than once in my life. I like to think I'm better for it. After having placed all of those words on this blog on Friday, I woke up on Saturday feeling released from them, from all the the thoughts that become bottled up inside me where they were never intended to stay. I took a deep breath and then I moved on. What more can we do in this world?

From the bottom of my closet I removed a bag I bought on the street in India. It's held up nicely over the years. Inside I placed a book, my Ipod, a camera, my keys and a few dollars should I need them, and out the door I went, no plan, no purpose. I just needed to get up and go. And so I did. At the bottom of a familiar hill I decided impulsively to keep walking straight, instead of turning to the right as I do each morning in my car on the way to work. The bottom of the hill curves off to the left and I had no idea what laid beyond. It was the perfect place to start.

Because once I'd navigated the traffic on the street with no sidewalk and rounded the corner I found a river, which delighted me in ways I cannot begin to express. I followed along side it in the quiet of morning, reveling in the newness of it. I never cease to be amazed anew by the joy of discovery. When life begins to feel stagnant, as life inevitably does, it is always so comforting to find myself in these moments of uncovering surprises, quiet secrets kept from me because I'd never bothered to reveal them. It always feels like an awakening, of the mind, of the spirit, of the possibility brimming within each of us. Immediately I snapped out of whatever funk had previously had hold of me. I rounded the corner and it was gone.

I kept walking until I found a park where I decided to sit and read for a while. After a few chapters I got restless, and so I continued on, taking roads completely unfamiliar to me, not worrying about exactly how to get home, ignoring the "I should" feelings that weigh so heavily as I carry them everywhere. Every once and a while I'd find a perfect spot to sit and read a few more chapters, and then I would get up and keep going. It wasn't the same kind of restlessness I generally feel. It wasn't at all a long to-do list lingering in the back of my mind. I never once worried that I was wasting time. In fact, it was the best I'd used my time in quite a while. It was Mary Oliver's "Tell me, what else should I have done?" It was that kind of day.

Of course, after a few hours, when my legs began to grow tired and my skin began to turn pink, I had to return to some kind of reason. And naturally, the first rational thought I had was, "damn, I have no idea where I am." I had enjoyed all this time that I hadn't brought my cell phone with me. I liked that I was unreachable, that I had allowed myself to disappear from everything and everyone for a few hours, that I was free from playing any of the roles I have been cast in. But of course on the other side of not being able to be reached also meant that I was unable to simply pick up my phone and reach others. And so I kept walking, trying to get my bearings, looking for anything recognizable. Nothing. So I just kept going.

I stumbled upon this tiny cafe in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. I suddenly realized how thirsty I was. Not surprisingly, no one was inside but the girl behind the counter. She greeted me with an enthusiastic "hello!" and my heart fell for a moment at the idea that I had most likely stepped into another charming, failing cafe. It was completely my kind of place, with colorful mismatched chairs and shelves lined with books that were meant to be shared. I was instantly in love. I bought a bottle of water and sat at one of the empty tables, read a few more chapters in the book that was approaching its final pages. I got up to leave and considered asking her for directions, but then stopped myself. I didn't really want them, I realized. I much preferred the journey. And so I said my thanks and goodbye and walked on.

Only twenty minutes later I regretted it. My skin was burning and I literally had to will my legs to keep going. I was bordering on panic when I finally approached a busy intersection and realized I knew exactly where I was. I was on my way home. Thanks to years of traveling and the navigational keenness I've inherited from my mother, my sense of direction always seems to get me here somehow. I always seem to find my way home.

When I did finally arrive at my door, turned the key, and stepped inside, I smiled. I have taken the road less traveled more than once in my life, but I never seem to take any one particular road more than once. That's what makes them special. That's what makes me special. No one can ever live their life exactly as I have lived mine. It's a nice thought, isn't it? It's nice that only I had that exact experience yesterday. Only I walked that exact path and thought those exact thoughts and felt those exact feelings. Only I had that adventure. It is mine. And I'll carry it with me as I walk on alongside rivers and unexplored streets, in and out of charming cafes, on the only road that I will ever know, the one that curves and bends and dips and rises unexpectedly, the one that begins at birth and ends at death and marks the journey of my existence here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you are my "long-lost" cousin... :-)

My name is Melissa Eslinger. I recently found your dad (Steve Zelnick, right?) on facebook. My mom's name is Natalie Eslinger (maiden name Reich). Her dad was David Reich, and mom Allayne Reich. My mom's cousin Naomi (we knew her as Nonnie) is the only relative from my mom's side that I've ever known very well, and she has since passed (I'm not sure if you knew her or not). As I've gotten older, naturally, I have been growing more and more curious about my roots. I've been researching for some months now, when I finally came across your dad (and now you and your siblings!).

Nice to meet you! (well, kind of anyway :-P)