I long ago learned that I could, if I wanted, waste a significant amount of energy on totally pointless emotion. For example, the frustration that arises all too often within the confined space of an automobile. No amount of huffing and puffing or rolling of the eyes is going to accelerate the vehicle that has pulled out in front of me only to proceed at a speed comparable to that of a bicycle. Nor will it draw the attention of the driver of that vehicle away from his cell phone or her mirror.
Learning something, however, does not always mean that one is capable of putting it into practice at every available opportunity. And so it was that last week as I was headed toward Athens and a long awaited visit with friends that would also include a football game I found myself huffing and puffing and rolling my eyes at the well-nigh unbelievable fact of having traveled only 4 miles in 30 minutes on what has perennially been the most desolate stretch of the interstate highway system, I-16.
I took the next available exit without a completely clear idea of how to get where I intended to go, but feeling quite certain that, aided my own good sense of direction and the GPS embedded in my telephone, I could get there. Within moments of extricating myself from the serpentine string of cars and trucks wending its way west toward Macon, I felt my shoulders relaxing and my jaw unclenching. By the time I pulled into my friends’ driveway, I had promised myself that I would never again make that particular trip utilizing the chaotic loops of concrete and steel that encircle and constrain Atlanta. I had found a new way and it was lovely.
Instead of being hypnotized by endless miles of flat gray asphalt, I had been energized by miles of open pasture. I had curved and twisted my way to Snellville along roads with names like Miller Bottom Road and Rosebud Road. I had crossed the bridge at Lake Sinclair and watched the water shimmer like rhinestones in the late afternoon sun. I had driven slowly enough to notice the old barns and the country stores along the roadway and the colors of fall in the trees that lined the fencerows.
A couple of days later as I started home, reversing myself down those melodically named roads, I realized that I was actually eager for the drive. I wanted to see those trees from the other side, the lake in different light. I wanted to feel myself lean into the curves from the opposite direction. I wanted to watch the shadows slip and slide across the pavement markings, morph and melt into the ditches.
I could have made the return trip the old way, via highways with six lanes, made claustrophobic and anxious by the swell of traffic racing around me. I could have zoomed and zipped, but instead I moseyed and meandered. I could have followed habit, but I chose not to because this is what I’ve learned: There is always more than one way to a destination. More than one set of directions that will get you to where you need to be. Clinging tightly to the map you’ve always followed, stepping deliberately into old footprints, ignoring the invitation to explore, you will still arrive, but you will miss the rhinestones dancing on the water. You will not hear the voices of the abandoned barns telling their stories. And you most certainly will not see the semaphores of red and gold leaves flashing out the message that this, yes, this is the way home.