My life used to be a game of Red Rover. You know the field game, where kids stand linked together holding hands in a row and a member of the opposite team has to charge the line and bust through a set of those hands. When my turn came, “red rover, red rover send Gwen right over!” I was prepared, I’d studied those hands and was sure of the weakest link. Even after getting clotheslined in the throat by those seemingly easy to break through arms, I got up and charged again, digging my heels into the grass and trying to claw my way past.
And then I found a different way. A higher power, or God, or the energy that animates us, or whatever you want to call it, picked me up from the dirt and led me around, away and past the game of Red Rover forever. You see it’s not about looking for the weakest link and busting through, forcing my way through life, it’s about quitting that game altogether.
This year. Oh this year. What a year, year, year, year, year. At least a decade has been compressed in the last 12 months. It has been the worst year ever and the best year ever. Dreams have been crushed and new ones born, old dreams have resurfaced and a healthy number fulfilled. There has been loss, sorrow, fear, failure. There has been joy, adventure, laughter, success. And there has been life of a different kind: serenity, grace, faith, trust. The last of these can only be found by leaving the game, by allowing a higher power to point the way.
Miraculously I find myself eating cookies in the mountains of Colorado, snow slowly drifting down and coating the trees, while I hold a warm cup of coffee with both hands and hum along to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” I’m set to open Yellow Arrow Coffee in a matter of weeks. I have no tables or chairs, very little experience operating an espresso machine, and a to do list that would make even the type A-ist cry but somehow it will come together, and if it doesn’t, well then I’m darn well gonna enjoy these cookies.
I woke up one morning in January and decided to write a back up plan. Just in case the life I was desperately trying to rescue fell apart. On that back up plan I wrote all the things I would do if the reset button of life could be pushed. When my life indeed fell apart, I picked up all my excuses, turned them over in my hands one by one and gave them a good hard look in the eye. Then pressed the reset button.
The thing about pressing the reset button is you can look back all you want, but once you’ve pushed the thing it can’t be undone. All there is left to do is walk forward as self-detonation explodes in your wake.
I’m not sure how it is that I got so lucky. That I have all my fingers and toes, that planes and trains and cars have taken me all around the world, that I have more choices than regrets. But I do know that it takes a willingness to move forward, whether that be on knees, or crawling with face in the dirt, or running fast. It takes looking at life from another angle to see what we have right in our hands and then choosing to fit these pieces together into an imperfect, workable existence.
While walking the camino this summer, I came to a crossroads. There was no one around. The boys I’d been walking with had stopped a mile so before to meditate on a rock in the wind. It was just me and the camino on a cool, foggy morning surrounded by purple and yellow alpine flowers and skinny pine trees. Ahead of me the camino stretched on, clearly marked with a yellow arrow and a cement way marker declaring how many steps left to reach Santiago. On the left a gravel road ascending a steep hill topped with a few motionless windmills. On the right a path leading into the forest, seductive and dark. Behind me many, many miles of camino tread by my own feet.
It occurred to me then that I didn’t have to follow the yellow arrows at all, that a more interesting path could surely be found by hanging a right or by blazing my own trail right through the trees. Eventually I’d get there. The only way to ensure a failure to reach Santiago would be by going back the way I’d come.
At that crossroads life became clear to me, distilled in a way I finally understood. There are always arrows pointing the way, we can choose to follow them, or we can not. More than likely we’ll end up at the same place anyhow, but it’s up to us whether to take the clearly marked way, or to go off the rails on our own.
And so as I approach each crossroads in life and stop to look around and appreciate all the directions available, I hope that I’ll have sense enough to follow the yellow arrows. And if not, this winding path will circle back around.
Ever forward, never back.