“Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien
I was on a road trip the other day, trying to get from the Sacramento area to the Bay Area, when I had to take a detour. The I-80 freeway was backed up for miles due to an accident. I quickly checked my map app and saw a way around it, so I took the next exit and found myself in a part of town I wasn’t familiar with. It got me thinking about detours.
A typical first reaction to a detour is to be annoyed. However, detours aren’t always bad. While we prefer to stay the course on which we originally set out, we should be prepared for anything to change at any moment. It’s really pretty amazing, when you stop to think about it, that we get from Point A to Point B without diversion as often as we do.
Detours are opportunities for discovery.
For example, my life has been a series of detours. While some may have meticulously planned their route from high school to college to a job (like my dear husband), my path was more of a winding road. As a young person – and a multi-passionate one – I didn’t have a clear picture of where I wanted to go and who I wanted to be. To move out of my small town, meet new people and have adventures, those were my goals. When I would reach a crossroad in my journey, I would evaluate my options and make a decision based on the information I had at the time. Because of this approach, I’ve had experiences and made friends I may not have known otherwise. Sitting here on this couch, writing this to you, is the result of a series of detours. I never, in my younger days, planned to be a writer, but my cumulative experience lends itself to being written about.
For all the detours we take throughout life, no matter where we end up, we don’t get the option to go back and try again. Sometimes, I look back and imagine a life where I made different decisions, where I followed a more “traditional” path, a straighter one that took me from high school to college to a job and onward. I imagine changing the parts I regret. But, as we all understand, any different choice made back then, and I would be a different person now, some other character in some other play that was never written.
This time, I chose the detour. I chose to depart the freeway in order to not remain stuck in the traffic (a metaphor in itself, don’t you think?). At first it was a little stressful not knowing exactly where I was going or where I’d end up, but these days navigation apps help to significantly reduce that stress. They allow those of us who want to wander off the beaten path some security of a technological guardian angel. I can always hit “home” and my nav will take me there, after I’m done with my adventure.
When it’s a “forced” detour, however, when you keep trying to proceed in a direction and the doors keep closing, when you set out on a road and are literally forced to detour, be aware that there is usually a message there. Maybe our eyes are trained on one thing but we need to see another option. When we are forced to go a different way, to point our bodies in an unplanned direction, that’s the best time to pay good attention, to be even more alert to the messages around us, to look for The Something we wouldn’t have seen or been introduced to otherwise.
I’ve come to learn to have patience with detours; there must be a reason. It might be one I’ll never discover (diverted by fate to avoid some unknown catastrophe). Or, I might see or hear something that causes me to think about life in a new way, or meet someone who has wise and timely words for me. Maybe I see a destitute situation and I’m vividly reminded of my many blessings. This time, my detour allowed me time to think about detours; I honestly don’t think I’d be writing this now if not for choosing to get off the freeway; at the time, a seemingly insignificant decision. (Aha! Lesson #2: a seemingly insignificant decision today may result in a larger-than-expected future impact.)
Don’t be dismayed by having to change course. Detours serve a purpose. Be most alert, be aware that you’ve been diverted not randomly, but for a reason. (Is anything really random in life?) When you find yourself on an alternative course, be open to receiving a message, and if you remember my earlier post, it just might be from a most unusual place.