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The Wrong Way to Monterey

August 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

The good news… is you came a long way,
the bad news… is you went the wrong way
J. Cole

When we find ourselves traveling in the wrong direction, we have two choices: We can either curse life for our unfortunate circumstances, or we can give a hats-off to its great wisdom. We can see this road of life as cruel and unfeeling, or as the provider of gas refills to help us eventually get to the right destination. Nasty adversary or benevolent friend—we decide which we choose to believe —but either way, life always gives us the option to make a U turn and change course if we find we’ve gone in the wrong direction.

But for most of us, the road headed in the wrong direction has much invested in it. We planned it. We worked for it. We envisioned how it was going to be when we got there. And all along, we were mindlessly driving to a place we never believed was the wrong destination. But it was.

I don’t know if it takes character or courage, humility or humor, but when some people recognize that they went the wrong way, they simply make a U turn and change course. They’re not always sure exactly where they will be going, but they’re certain they should not be where they are. With a bit of grace, and perhaps a chuckle to replace the natural churlish rage, they seek once again to find a joyous destination.

There is a calm to it all, mixed with the positive excitement of possibility. They do not know where they are going, do not know where to exit when they turn back, but they do know they’ve gone in the wrong direction and landed in the wrong place. And in spite of the time they may have wasted traveling toward the wrong destination, to paraphrase Harry Chapin, they know that anywhere is a better place to be.

Therein lies the possibility of happiness—to make the mistake and not beat oneself up for it. Happiness can be found despite the wrong choice by graciously admitting the mistake, and trying again somewhere else, at a later time. Happiness is found by deciding not to spend more time sitting in the wrong spot, when we realize we’ve just gone the wrong way.

Many years ago, before GPS existed, I was driving to Monterey, California and wound up in San Francisco, some two hours away. Realizing I was lost, I stopped at a hotel to get a sense of how to get to the right place. The concierge said, “Make a U-turn and take Highway 1 back down. It’s so much better than the crowded freeway. It’s the most beautiful road you’ve ever travelled, and it takes you right into Monterrey. Just stay on the road, and eventually you’ll get there.”

And that is what I did—quite by accident, I travelled the most beautiful road I’d ever seen to Monterey; by way of an error and some lost time, I got to Monterey refreshed and energized. I will never forget that road, or that day. There is no way to explain what happened or why, but on Highway 1, I connected into something inexplicable; into awe, and into something so much greater than what I had known. There’s no way to forget the cliffs or the sunshine reflecting off the water, no way to disconnect from the serenity. Some days I think God was talking to me that day. On others, I think it was just a serendipitous encounter with beauty that reminded me why I was here and that there was much left to do. But regardless of what it was, in a glorious testament to life’s strange ways, I found a great moment in my life by simply going the wrong way.

I wish that I would remember that blunder whenever I make others, but most times, I don’t—I sit and complain at the wrong exit instead. I keep moaning about the time I’ve wasted and all the things I could have done had I not gone the wrong way.

It’s a choice. Get churlish and argumentative, resentful and irate, or make a U-turn and hope for the possibility of wonders. Because if you’re lucky, you just might find that it’s much better going the wrong way to Monterey.


July 13, 2016 § 2 Comments

I’ve spent my days roaming the country. In 58 years, I’ve lived in 7 states and 8 different cities. My friend John once joked that my family has moved more frequently than people in the witness protection program. I’ve left behind a host of friends and family, and have become disconnected from many of the everyday sights and sounds that were mainstays of places where I once lived. Over the years, I’ve become a master of letting go of one place and moving on to another. I’ve also learned some things along the way.

I’ve learned that whenever life circumstances change, it’s important to get back to your center, figure out who you are in that moment, and simply extend a welcoming hand to the new and unknown. To be honest, I’ve not liked much of it. I always found that it took a lot out of me to start over. But there was always an excitement that came along with all the challenges; a sense of learning something new, of figuring out new places, and of entering into a mysterious void that other people called home. Sometimes the void became my home as well, but at other times it remained a void up until the day I left. Even in the void, however, my life was never dull. There was always the exhilaration of knowing that I might move on, followed by the inevitable hunt for the next place. I imagine it must be similar to the excitement of parachuting out of an airplane, scanning the panorama below and knowing you will land somewhere—even if you don’t know where. I’ve always felt as if I were dangling in the air. Much like a parachutist who has just free-fallen from the safety of his plane, I tried to steer myself toward the right place each time; even when something told me that the winds were more powerful than I was… and that I would ultimately land wherever I needed to.

But even after all these years, I still don’t understand change—and I’ve long decided to accept it. The life of a virtual vagabond has always left me relegated to saying, “that’s just the way it is.” I’ve had an ongoing tendency to stay, but at the same time, a willingness to leave. I eventually decided to move each time I was pointed that way; accommodating my soul to the change because I knew I could always move on once more. I found freedom in that thought, and serenity in the possibility.

Being a vagabond has made for loneliness and friendship, for losing and gaining, for tears and sleepless nights, for wonderful things I would never have imagined, and for experiences I wish I’d never had. It’s been a mixture of all things; of dark and light reimagined on different stages, and in different climates. My life isn’t much different from anyone else’s, except that mine has been lived within shifting scaffolds; always twisting in a different wind.

This is the way that my life has gone, and as I get older I sometimes wonder what might have materialized if I had stayed in one place or another. What would have happened if I had simply taken off my walking shoes, put my feet on the coffee table—and stayed? That is something I will never know.

But that thought never stays with me for long. Because something at the core of my being tells me that this vagabond life, with all of its twists, turns, surprises, and uncertainty, is precisely the one I was meant to live.