If you look down and the path you are on is clear, then someone else made it for you. This may be news to you, or perhaps not. It seems axiomatic in some ways. School, college, internship or first job will all have a well-worn path that many have trotted before you. Some are so well travelled that they are paved. A paved path is neither wrong nor bad, it simply “is”. For some that don’t ponder about it, the path is clear all the way through retirement and a condo in a warm climate.
There are times that we are confronted with the fork in the road, and we may choose the “path less traveled” which makes all the difference, therefore. However can be simply less traveled and at times challenging and even scarry. Perhaps even dangerous and threatening to us or our companions, not to mention the finances or the real possibility of failure and starting over. Ignominy, ruined reputation, betrayal, divorce, alone, these and many more are the options that come our way. We may be starting anew, but always with some “life tattoo” that we collected along the way. This journey always carries with it the stories that are of a flavor and spice that the well-trotted path will never produce. The tears and the fears that are at the same time real, and at times done in the dark and with no companions to share them, are the stories that reveal themselves to a group of those that have earned the trust that is found in the telling. The milk-toast path, the one of small challenges will never produce the good story.
There is a third path that is found, for those select few that are presented with it. It is never an option, this path of adventure, but is thrust upon us. The power of this place of no paths is just that part, thrust upon us. The unexpected death of a powerful mentor, or your own child. The crushing of a dream that seemed so vivid that you could smell the subtle but compelling distinct variations of hope. This place of no paths is that place that is a jungle of amazingly vibrant growth that blocks out the sun, obscures the landmarks that could give direction, and is filled with all manner of things that would enjoy your soon demise. The puma that will drop from a high perch to the serpents that strikeout in fear as you pass by. The insects that devour that which remains after the others have done their feasting. You are alone. You are with no bearings. The danger of being consumed is legitimate and pervasive. You are not even certain that hope is worth the weight of carrying it. The consumption has begun.
Possibly the worst thing about being here in the place of no paths is that it is in your mind. Seldom are we actually dropped into the Amazonian jungle from a plane with not one tool or a compass. Most of the time it is in our own home when the phone rings. Usually, it is a voice of one we know that brings the shocking news. At times it is the voice of an officer or a nurse, tasked with making this call about that one that you thought would never pass. Perhaps it is the financial advisor’s company telling of the counselor that you trusted but betrayed that trust and lost your life savings and the hopes of a pleasant retirement. One man, in just this place, told of the changed insurance policy and his wife being covered, only to find out that she was neither covered nor able to survive the cancer and that he had to sell his business to pay the bill. This is the jungle that he was dropped into. Perhaps I should say “landed upon him”.
And yet, here we are. Alone. Disoriented. Without the usual tools that we have used in the past. These tools, which we had used in times of previous turmoil, or at least that we had seen others use and attempted to learn from them in some vicarious way. It is never enough, and I think we know that in a way, but it is a building of strength kind of thing. To hope that we are strong enough through those smaller times that we can work through any larger version. This is the real delusion though. This is not that in any form. You may have lost a pet when you were young, but that is not your spouse, and it was not in the same way. Violent betrayal by the justice system that was to help bring closure has no companion to the loss of the pet. Yet here you are. Interestingly, each one that reads this will put the worst of the possible scenarios of their own choosing into these sentences, and they will all be true, to you. I cannot list enough to catch the one that you were looking for, and the rest would find it tedious anyway, so I will let you choose that which is your worst version of it. Look down, do you still see the path? If you do, then you have not thought dark enough.
So, it is. Did you add the “soothsayers” that come along and speak worthless platitudes to you? Worthless and unhelpful statements that are nothing more than “word salads” filled with celery. Absolutely of no value, and nauseating for the breathing of them, and then you become aware: these people don’t know…. They may not be malicious, but they have obviously never suffered, and thought about it. They may have numbed themselves, crawled into a version of the one that was affected but became someone else other than the real one, the wounded one that cries out in anguish, with words that cannot be uttered, at least that others can know. These are the ones that surprise, because you thought they would be more than this. So too, are the ones that surprise with their patience, listening, tears. These are the ones that are in a club you did not plan on joining, but now belong. The initiation fee is steep. The group is diverse, and they all carry the same tattoo. Some have it hidden. Some out in the open. All come with a story that they did not want, but all have. Some will be on the journey so long it seems that they are “better”, but that is a lie. They may be different than in the beginning, and that may appear that they have grown and are at peace, but all will tell you that they would have rather taken this journey with the one that they lost.
Here is bad news (like this has been fun in any version of it): You cannot prepare for it. That it is a surprise is actually part of it. You will never be prepared. The only thing you can do is be resolved that you are a part of and a larger version of you than you knew. Rip off the bottom of your shirt, tie it around your forehead and start. Rip a limb off of a tree and use it as a way to make a path. Grunt, scream, swing hard, rest a moment and cry. Then continue. Know that you are not alone, your thoughts and heart tell you this, even if your surroundings don’t. You will be different, not ok. Pain is real, and suffering is individual. No one can do it for you, and no one can actually know. They will bring a glass of water perhaps. Give you a break and cut some of the branches away, but it is yours to walk. Some will walk in circles for a while before they gain some insight and direction. Others will get lost and give in to despair and victimhood. It is a real option. Choose wisdom borne of struggle. You will get a cool tattoo. A club of others with different stories will be your new “people”. Lean on them. Someday you can tell of your own journey, including the tears, and you will listen as the tale of others is mingled together with your own. Be present, they will be better, and so will you.
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