I was walking down the road the other day, walking stick firmly in hand, when I stopped and took in the scenery along the way. Off to my left were cows grazing in a really pretty little pasture, and to the right was an old house down another road, this one made of dirt and gravel. As I stopped to ponder the sights and sounds and smells, I began to reflect upon my journey down this old road. Where did it begin, and where will it end. This is an old road I’m on, and the real wonder of it all is that this old road I’m on is the same road upon which I’ve always been.
Sometimes this old road I’m on is nothing more than a footpath through some wooded landscape where the only sounds are birds chirping, leaves rustling in the breeze, and water flowing across rocks and stumps as it travels down its own road that we know as a creek bed, and the smell of leaves freshly crumbled under my foot fills the air. The yellows and golds and reds and browns of the leaves and the blue and purple and orange and pink of the sky as dusk approaches and many different colors of the various flowers and other plant life are near impossible to take in all at once.
Other times, this old road I’m on is a massive six-lane freeway, where I find myself helplessly trapped in one of the middle lanes. Six lanes of traffic seem to be going in the same direction as I, but all of those shiny cars with their drivers seemingly oblivious to one another while talking on their cell phones and changing radio stations are heading not to the same place I’m going, but to destinations unknown, and I, in the midst of all this random activity, walk along and take in the din of traffic, tires screeching, horns blaring, radios booming that deep bass thump, thump, thump, and all of the other beautiful noises of city life.
At any given moment, this old road I’m on has been any type of road in between that footpath and the freeway. Avenues, streets, highways and byways, boulevards, cul-de-sacs, drives, sidewalks, runways, creek beds, beaches, lakesides, parking lots, lanes, alleys, expressways, turnpikes, railroads, and all manner of trails where I could walk along, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
This old road I’m on took me and my boyhood friends to adventures in Austin that were wondrous to behold. We walked down the paved road that passed in front of our house until it went left around a corner and eventually turned into a dirt road and then nothing more than a couple of ruts through the grass. We took the turn to the left that led us downhill to a creek where we became explorers, adventurers, pirates on occasion, Native American Indians looking for and finding arrowheads, and eventually young little men learning how to learn hard lessons along this old road.
This old road I’m on took me almost all the way through school, but I took an early exit ramp and it was some time later that I was able to find my way back from that other side road and finish my journey along that particular stretch of road.
This old road I’m on led me to San Antonio in 1980 where I found myself enlisted in the United States Air Force. Then it took me to Illinois where I met Kelley who became my first wife a year or so later. It took me to Ohio for a year and then on to California. We took this old road back to Texas for a year, and then backtracked our way back to California, where Kelley decided to take a different road than the one I’m on.
This old road took me to the Rio Grande Valley where I tried to find myself, but only found myself alone in a strange and unwelcoming environment. It took me to Virginia where I eventually did find my real self and somehow attracted the attention of Sheri who graciously joined me on this old road and has helped me navigate some of the more difficult sections as we walk together.
This old road runs in front of our little farm house in Good Hope, Missouri where we live a happy life with my family just down the road and where our pets rule the abode. A half mile down the road is a small store that I like to walk to with Jaz the Beagle.
This old road I’m on has been fraught with dangers. I have walked past so many of the posted warning signs along the way, Signals to the traveler that unknown and unwanted perils await just ahead and around that bend. The signs were there but I didn’t always see them, sometimes not even venturing a passing glance, but rather walking past with blinders on, so arrogantly confident in my own self-importance that a road map would be nothing more than wasted effort. Directions surely would only slow me down in my haste to get where I thought I was going, where I thought I should be going, and where I thought I would ultimately arrive. Well, I’m still on this old road, but nowhere near where I thought I would be.
There are also handwritten notes nailed to trees along the sides of this old road I’m on with one word and a scribbled arrow at the bottom that pointed down a path lined with great trees and I could hear the silence spilling out onto the road and feel the wonderful warmth in my bosom as I neared that path. The smell of warm bread or chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven or some such other pleasing fragrance was floating on the clean and fresh and pristine breeze. The aroma of jasmine and roses and honeysuckle came wafting out to greet me like an old friend I haven’t seen in years. I could see light down this path even though no sunlight could possibly get through the rows of mighty oaks or elms or black walnut trees. Sometimes I saw this sign with the arrow and its one handwritten word of “peace”, and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I saw it and turned to go down that path, and sometimes I just ignored the message and went on my way. I can’t think of a single time, however, when I stumbled upon that pathway to peace without either looking for the sign, or spotting it accidentally out of the corner of my eye. Something more inviting must have caught my attention perhaps.
There were flashing beacons that foretold of different happiness’s if I would but take the next ramp and follow this road wherever it would lead. They were signals to me that my health, wealth, spirituality, relationships, time, and other freedoms would improve and grow as I made my way down this road. Sometimes I heeded, and sometimes I thought I knew a better way to go.
There are signs along this old road that caution against high speeds, making me aware that it’s ok to slow down and take in the scenery, smell the roses, take notice of where I’ve been, where I am at the moment, and where I’m going.
There are signs of caution, signs of warning and dangers ahead, signs to slow down or speed up. There are big and colorful and bright signs, and there are signs that I had to nearly run into before I noticed them. There was a sign written by Jerry Garcia that simply stated the obvious for most of us, “What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been!”
There were also great big billboards along this old road. One in particular gave me cause to reflect. It was a large white billboard out in the middle of what seemed to be nowhere, unassuming except for its size, and it was erected by Rolling Thunder, an American Indian medicine man. His message to whomever passed by was simple yet powerful: “People have to be responsible for their thoughts, so they have to learn to control them. It may not be easy, but it can be done. First of all, if we don’t want to think certain things we don’t say them. We don’t have to eat everything we see, and we don’t have to say everything we think. So we begin by watching our words and speaking with good purpose only.” I think I went the rest of the day without uttering a single syllable.
My journey has been one of complex twists and turns. This old road I’m on has taken me through and to some of the most beautiful scenery that this country has to offer. Parts of this old road has run alongside fields of bluebonnets in Texas where no green could be seen, only the blue that stretched to the horizon where it was difficult to distinguish the field from the blue sky. It has taken me by the impressive skylines of our major (and not-so-major) cities in this great land of ours. This old road has wound its way down steep hillsides, across rustic iron bridges, through tunnels carved through mountains. It has turned slowly though the buttes and plateaus of New Mexico, and twisted wildly from side to side and up and down through the City by the Bay. I’ve seen this old road where it just went as straight as my own eyesight and then disappeared into the sunset as I walked through West Texas. I’ve walked down this old road through the Mojave Desert in stunned amazement at how the Joshua Trees can all look so much alike but at the same time be so different, each having its own shape and size and individuality.
There were times as I wandered down this old road that I’m on when I thought I would never see daylight again, where I found myself in darkness even at noontime on a cloudless day. Those were the times when I thought I was truly alone, and forgotten, and yes, those were the times when I was frightened because I thought I was lost and perhaps even on the wrong road. I know better now, because there were also those times when I could see clearly down the road in the dead of night when there was no moonlight to illuminate the way before me and I knew that this is the road upon which I belong, in any weathers, and in every condition.
There were times when I was walking down this old road I’m on when it was cold and raining and I could find no tree to huddle up against for shelter. There were times when I was hungry but the restaurant was on the other side and the median was lined with a tall fence that rendered it impassable. There were times when I thought I was intentionally run off the road and into the wilderness, and there were times when friendly passers-by offered companionship, directions, helpful warnings or advice. Maybe they just waved and smiled as they went by. I always liked those people.
This old road I’m on has seen me running down it for a purpose known only to myself, and also for no reason at all. Not that I ever ran for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days and 16 hours like Forrest Gump did, but I have been known to step lively when the urge struck me. This old road has also seen me stumble and fall off into the ditch where I was torn up rather handily by the briars and the brambles growing wild there. It has witnessed as I strutted with pride, strolled leisurely, limped in agony, crawled in humility, marched militarily, ambled aimlessly, and trudged along against my will when I wanted to just stop and sleep.
I have skipped, jumped, jogged, advanced, ambulated, padded, hit the road, strutted, knocked about, lead, followed, gotten out of the way, shuffled, marched, hiked, meandered, paced, strode, plodded, limped, pranced (but not too often), traversed, promenaded, raced, traipsed, run, walked, crawled, ambled, paraded, sauntered, scuffed, shambled, slogged, hoofed it, stalked, stepped, lumbered, strolled, legged, stumped, toddled, moseyed, toured, roamed, tramped, patrolled, traveled, treaded, escorted, trekked, trooped, cantered, trudged, wandered, lumbered, and wended my way down this old road I’m on.
This old road I’m on has taken me through some areas of bitter contradictories. Places where on one side of the road are parents rejoicing the birth of a child and right across the avenue are children mourning the loss of a parent whose mortal life was cut too short by disease, an automobile accident, or the evil actions of another person.
On one side of this old road I have witnessed our youth without a care in the world playing marbles or jumping rope or involved in a highly contested game of sandlot baseball, while on the other side stood hospitals filled with children bravely fighting for life against muscular dystrophy, leukemia or some other form of cancer, abuse and neglect, and loneliness.
I have been a witness to some of the most horrific hate-driven tragedies that persons of a so-called civil society have perpetrated on one another, shaking my very faith in humanity to the core, and then strolled on another few feet ahead as an old homeless man resting by the way receives a hot meal, a few bucks, and some encouraging kind words of hope that lift his spirits enough to take up his travels along this old road again. Walking along for a spell with this old man renews my faith and reminds me that those others are truly the exception, and not the rule.
This old road I’m on has been at times brand new, with a solid and flat and smooth surface on which to meander. Other sections have been in dire need of some serious attention, causing me (when I happen to notice) to take care in my stride, placing each foot down carefully, avoiding the pitfalls that may cause me to stumble and fall. I have tripped more than a few times along this old road, but I’ve always managed to get back up and continue this amazing expedition.
I have met some amazing people while walking down this old road I’m on. Friends who have touched me in ways that they cannot realize. Friends whom I’ve not spoken with in years but still have a special place in my heart and of whom I have many fond memories as I stop and turn around and look back down this old road I’ve traveled. There are friends who have picked up their own walking sticks and joined me for a season, friends who have waved as I hustled on by, and friends who have been with me for many years, traveling within me in my heart and mind instead of beside me on the road itself. Of all of these friends, there is neither a favorite nor a “bottom of the list.” Each is unique in his or her own way, and all are the same in that they have helped me find my way down this old road that I’m on, while adding value to my journey.
So here I am, walking down this old road and I wonder what wonders I will behold around the next bend or what hazards lie just over the next hill. My journey has been long and short at the same time; it has been an uphill climb and difficult to navigate at times; it has been a downhill coast easy and delightful at times; and I have been able to see both sides of the road, the good and the evil, the easy and the difficult, the exciting and the mundane, the joys that come from walking on one side of the road and the pain that comes from walking on the other side.
At the beginning of this old road were my parents, caring for me and nurturing me until I could take my first steps. But even before I took that first step putting one foot in front of the other, even before I could crawl on my hands and knees, and even before I could muster enough strength to hold my own head upright, or roll from my belly to my back, I began my journey down this old road… a journey that I’m still walking today.
Sometimes I want to get off this road, but that urge never lasts very long. This old road I’m on lays out long before me, and when I finally reach the end, I hope to find many of my friends and family there to be with me as I step off and begin my new adventure.
All in all, this old road that I’ve been on and continue to journey along was and is a good road, and the trip was worth every step I’ve taken and I’m fairly confident it will remain so in where ever my future endeavors take me.
I’m walking down this old road, and I love this old road I’m on. Come walk with me and let’s find out together where it leads… I’ll even let you use my walking stick if you need it.
Until next time…