Monday, March 5, 2007

Travel Companions

Life is a path we all walk. Some of us turn left, some turn right. Some simply stand in one place waiting for life to find them and lead them somewhere like a small child. Some only go so far then backtrack trying to figure out which of the many forks they traveled wrongly and go back and right their mistakes. But we all eventually circle back.

I had a different path from my husband, yet out of devotion as I was taught a wife should have, I chose to follow his. Miles down the road I grew weary of traveling towards a destination that was not my own. At the next fork he stayed, and I chose a direction and continued on alone. Along the path I met others who had chosen like me. In traveling alongside them I learned about myself all the things I had refused to see before. I could see where I had chosen poorly and where I had given up too quickly and gotten impatient and gone back to choose a different fork. When I grew tired of those too much like me, I returned back to the crossroads, again on this journey alone.

There were many forks to choose from this time, and with all I had learned I was surprised to find that I was less sure than ever of which one I should take. I knew where I longed to be but no idea how to get there. The more I searched for answers, the more elusive they became. I had learned along the last road that sometimes just taking a break and resting would clear my mind and then the answers might come to me were I to quit chasing them.

As I rested, I looked up and saw four men, one on each of the forks, walking towards me. They too had found themselves circling back. Perhaps it is the way of the drifters of the world to all travel back eventually to their starting point and complete one circle in order to better understand how to find the straight road the next time around.

The first was a traveler I had walked many, many miles with and conquered many roads that took sharp curves and then evened out into long stretches. We had made a treacherous path through woods, across high mountains, through raging riverbeds and were sure we would find the next town a suitable place to stay and set up shop for a fortnight. But it was never to be. Though we finally found a town and settled down, eventually the wine was gone and the song ended and it was time to move on. When we parted ways, he hung back then traveled several paces behind me to ensure my safety, though I never saw that he had done so until I found myself on a new road with new travel companions and it was then only his back I saw, stooped in defeat as he walked the opposite direction.

The second man was older and he walked with a limp. The path hurt his feet and the distance took its toll. Each day a new line appeared across his face, a new ache in his body. He always traveled with a map yet seemed more lost than any of the other companions I had shared roads with. He was my guide through some of the rougher trails but as his aches multiplied and his body began to fail, I still strode on gaining strength and boldness with each new step. When I left him the last time, standing far back on the road behind me, he smiled and waved me on knowing my journey was only beginning while his was coming closer to an end.

The third man was a stranger. He had great stories of adventure to tell me and lured me in with his colorful words and fables of the great land he was heading towards. For miles, I listened and began to share his dream of this Camelot he spoke of. The longer I walked with him though, the more I saw the rainbow with which he viewed these places and things, and that his destination was much like the illusion of water as the heat touched the ground of the hot day in the distance – simply a mirage in his own mind. I could not fly on his back to his kingdom and he refused to see that the only thing that lay ahead of him on this particular path was ruins. When I stopped following he did not notice until I was miles away already and then with a simple song, I was forgotten entirely.

The fourth man was a gentleman, a craftsman. He gave me tools and the skills to fashion great treasures from simple things we could find along the path or in the forests. He gave me a confidence in myself and a respect for the world around me. When night would fall, he would regale me with stories of his adventures and dark tales of spirits who haunted him still behind the smiling eyes. One day I stopped too long to gaze back on the road searching for lost companions and when I looked back at him, his eyes smiled no more. When the next night fell, I rose quietly and whispered my goodbye and was gone before Big Dicks woke, with a wish and prayer that he would one day understand.

The last man was not a man, but an ideal. He was the protector my first companion had been, the guide and wisdom of the second, the lighthearted adventurer like the third and the heart of gold and eye for beauty of the last. None of these five companions beckoned me to follow them. None seemed concerned that the paths they chose were narrow and only allowed for one set of footprints to be left. Each waited but a moment before turning and starting away, leaving me at my resting place with no more direction than I had found before. It is here where I rest now, waiting not for them to beckon me to follow, not to for them to ask me to lead, but to find the one who is willing to walk beside me. And when he comes, I’ll know which path to take and this time it won’t circle back.