Thursday, August 24, 2006

Signs of Life

It occurred to me the other day that road signs are full of life wisdom. Construction Zone, for instance. That could describe my sewing room. In a state of disarray, tools lying about, with danger in every square inch - scissors, needles, pins, rotary cutters, hot glue, hot iron. (I still remember the time that I sewed through my finger with the sewing machine needle.) Construction zones are pretty much dangerous territory. They're full of productive activity, but you have to tread carefully. When I'm in a Construction Zone mode, I have to remember to be cautious.

Many road signs are just warnings. Slow Down reminds me to do just that. Watch Out for Falling Rocks reminds me that life is full of treacherous, unpredictable events. Junction Ahead signs suggest that I prepare myself for the next step toward my personal goals. Moose Crossing can work both ways - a hope of catching a glimpse of one of those fascinating creatures, or the nightmare of having one crash into my windshield at 60 mph. Signs that warn of sharp curves in the road or steep downhill inclines demand that I adjust my driving (and living) accordingly. Scenic View signs serve as magnets, urging me to stop for a few minutes and enjoy beauty.

I thought about all this as I was driving to Winterport to see Rachel et. al. last weekend. I always take the same route. It's comfortable and familiar. It may not be the shortest way, it may not be the prettiest way, but it's the way I've always done it. She made it easy for me when she moved a few years ago. I take the same route to get to her new house as I did to get to her old house, up until a certain point. At that point, the end of a divided highway where I used to turn right, I now turn left and continue the rest of the way. There are no surprises. I know every mile of the trip, every road sign, every house for sale, every store, and every pothole and frost heave.

That day, however, as I pulled up to the intersection to make my usual left-hand turn, I was disconcerted to see a man in a construction vest waving at me. As I turned my head to the left, I saw a crowd of people lining the street. My heart sank. A parade. Oh, good grief!

The man waved me on. There was only one way to go. I had to make a U-turn. Was he asking me to turn around? He certainly was. I made the U-turn and found myself heading back the way I had come - in a state close to panic. I had met the Enemy, and its sign was Detour.

The older I get, the more I like ritual and routine. A change in routine greatly frustrates me. On this day, however, I was more than frustrated. I was extremely distressed, because in essence, I was lost. I was fine as long as I stayed on my regular route, but a change in course threw me into chaos. I had never driven around in that area before. You might as well have picked me up and set me down in the middle of Iraq. I had no idea where I was driving or how to get to Winterport.

I turned onto the first street to the right, pulled over in a parking lot, and called Rachel, explaining the situation. She told me to continue on that side street to see if I could get through there. I couldn't, of course. But I found a kind lady in another construction vest who took pity on my lost self and tried to get me back on track. She too directed me to make a U-turn, and suffice it to stay I went several miles out of the way in unfamiliar surroundings before I found myself back on the main road at an intersection that I recognized.

I could say here that because I took the detour, I was able to see a flock of wild geese, or a gorgeous flower garden, or some other wonderful thing that I would have otherwise missed. Well, I didn't. The detour was boring, uninspiring, and nondescript. Nothing beautiful happened and I wasted a lot of gasoline and a lot of time.

When we were moving to Maine from Tennessee, we usually received two reactions. Half of our friends asked why on earth we would want to do that, and shook their heads. The other half claimed it would be an incredible adventure for us, and they wished they had the guts to do it themselves.

Detours are like that. There is a certain comfort in methodical planning and a nasty shock when sudden alterations in the plan are necessary. On the other hand, there can be an ennui to methodical planning and a rush of excitement when one realizes that there is unchartered territory here, and maybe - just maybe - a few surprises. I guess we all need shaking up once in a while to remind us that we are still alive.

I have never liked detours on the highway or in life, and that fact has not changed. I am reassured, though, that when the detours come - and they will - I can emerge unscathed and continue on my journey.

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