On Paths

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In life, to occupy ourselves in the time between birth and death, at some point, all of us choose a path, and make it our life mission to walk from point A to B. Once we reach B, often after years of effort, we will achieve happiness, or at least something close to contentment. Once we reach B, death will begin to look a lot less frightening, and more like coming home after a long and wonderful holiday.

The trouble is, not all paths are made equal. There are hills and valleys. Holes and poles. Every landscape is unique. Some paths are harder to take than others, riddled with potholes and obstacles, filled with detours to point C and D and E, sometimes even all the way down to Z. Others take you underwater, through the heart of mountains, into volcanoes and whirlpools, or are mazes in which you get lost in, forever circling back on itself, or, worse, lead to dead-ends, shift destination halfway along, and are generally fickle and difficult. But it’s not just the path; you, yourself, will make many mistakes along the way, some of them irrevocable. Sometimes, people walk off the path into the wilderness, never to find their way back onto it. Sometimes, just when they are reaching the end of it, they sit down and give up and decide to snack on the last of their mushrooms. Sometimes, people get too tired, too weak, to go on, and perish where they stand. Whatever the path is, no matter how short or long or flat, it is never easy. Even the very few who choose no path at all and simply stroll on without a destination in mind towards the horizon must suffer from the pain of aimlessness, and in time reach the same final outpost as the rest of us.

The way to my path seems very clear. I have a map, with a red line squiggling across it telling me exactly how to get from point A to B. Millions of others have walked similar paths before, so, even though every path is different and unique, I have their experience and their knowledge to guide me. I have my backpack, my compass, enough water and food to last me the entire journey. The sun is high, the sky is blue, the birds are singing and the trees are swaying in the breeze. By all accounts, I am set. There is only one problem: my legs have been hacked off. I have no legs. In order to move along down the path, I must crawl and lurch and squirm across the hot, dusty ground, only able to cover a few metres each day. Having no legs and still having to keep inching forwards also means I get very discouraged, and sometimes spend days doing nothing except lying there with my nose to the ground, hating the path and hating myself.

One of the worst things to happen when you are walking along your path is to have someone pass you by on theirs, usually someone who is still in possession of both their legs, moving ahead of you at a rapid pace, curving around a bend in the trees and sprinting out of sight. It is very easy to give up then, to just lie there and wait for the final outpost, which is magical and can move to wherever you are when the time is right, to come to you. As everyone knows, it is must easier to stop than to keep on going, especially if you’re grazed bloody from crawling and your entire body is itching from mosquito bites and your flesh is baking and blistering in the sun like a pig on a spit held over a fire.

Yet somehow each of us keep on going. We keep on going. Each day we seem to make hardly any progress and the landscape around us seems unchanging, the same rocks and grass and pine trees, the same rabbits in the bushes and eagles perched in the trees. Occasionally it even rains or snows or thunders, which, needless to say, does nothing to improve matters. But we keep on going, like an ant trekking across the immense landscape of a terrace, hoping to reach the end, to arrive at our little point B, and drink our tiny drop of sweet happiness.

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