I helped my daughter get ready for the new school year last night.
While she was finishing her bedtime routine, I laid out her clothes and was struck by the fact that she’s entering fourth grade already – fourth grade. At risk of sounding like every other parent on the planet, I really did think it was just yesterday that she was starting Kindergarten. When my husband and I crawled into bed, I announced – just in case he hadn’t noticed – that we are the parents of a fourth grader.
“Fourth is halfway to eighth,” I said. “How the hell did we get here already?”
How did we get here, indeed?
Just a few weeks ago I was thinking about the first time my husband and I traveled together… That first trip as a couple is the stuff of dreams, isn’t it? Your relationship is new and exciting. You imagine heading off to someplace quiet and romantic where you can enjoy long, candlelit dinners or maybe a long evening stroll while you talk about all the possibility the future holds.
We had been together about a year and a half by this point, even though we never actually dated (it’s true – I told the tale here). We also worked together so we were comfortable in each other’s company for long periods of time. It was summer, we were in love, and it was going to be awesome.
Except it was a freaking disaster.
For starters, it was a thirteen hour trip. Thir. Teen. Hours. In a car. With someone whose driving habits I had only witnessed in small doses.
We fought the entire way. About what? I don’t know. Everything and nothing, most likely.
Perhaps the arguing was the result of stress caused by vacationing with family members. Yeah, our first vacation together was with his family. Vacationing with relatives is stressful enough, but doing that before they’re actually related to you? Good grief! What were we thinking?
Of course we had many enjoyable moments that week. We also spent a great deal of time stressed out and getting on one another’s nerves. We suffered the terror of palmetto bugs (roaches, people, roaches!) and the inconvenience of running to the local drugstore about a dozen times for items we simply failed to pack – sunscreen, prescriptions, bug spray, etc. At one point my husband pointed out that we saw more of the drugstore than we did of the island. His humor was lost on me which, of course, sparked yet another argument.
I’m happy to report that our relationship survived that trip – and several more over the years. Some things haven’t changed. We still argue in the car. We still forget things and commence with a hunt for the local drugstore when we arrive.
But since that first vacation, we have traveled so far together. We’ve made it through so many of life’s changes – both good and bad – and passed many milestones.
I’m not the first writer to liken life to a journey and certainly will be far from the last. Sometimes the journey progresses and unfolds quite organically and, well, life is good. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we hit a roadblock, snarled traffic, or a detour.
Writer’s block. Job changes. Illness. Weight loss plateaus. Relationship changes. Rejection of all kinds.
Often when faced with such challenges, we sit there and think, “OK, what now? This wasn’t the route I planned.”
What are the options? Keep sitting and waiting for the road to clear? Complain? Lay on the horn and stew about the lack of progress?
Or, how about take an alternate route? Pull out a map or the GPS, find a different way to get there.
Maybe it takes longer. Maybe the new route will have better scenery, a great restaurant to try, or a nice park to stop and wander around in for a while. And maybe it’s even faster or more direct than the route originally planned. Either way, there is almost always another way to arrive.
It is difficult to view complications as anything positive. But to keep moving forward in life, it is important to stop seeing the obstacles in our path as permanent and immovable dead ends. There is always a way around – even if it means we park the car, get out, and walk the rest of the way.
Shortly after that first vacation we took together, my husband gave me a gift. Using the physical map of our route, he created a poster that marked the highlights – the good, the bad, and the hilarious. The poster is a snapshot of our trip, an encapsulated version of the entire thing. It is by far not as large and looming as it seemed at the time and is obviously in no way representative of our entire journey together. Like with most things, we gain perspective as we view them in the rearview mirror.
Our journey through life isn’t merely about achieving our ends – at least not entirely. It’s also about enjoying the scenery and the struggles along the way and accepting that every step, no matter how small, is leading us somewhere.
Life has purpose. The road is not always easy; in fact, sometimes it’s damn hard. But when seen in that rearview mirror, it all makes sense. Take each step of life’s journey knowing that even when the road is rough, even when you break down or lose your way, you can have confidence that you will eventually end up exactly where – and who – you are supposed to be.
Lisa A. Listwa is OTV’s Author-in-Residence