How Can We Continue? (On This Road)

Have you ever gotten lost?

Not lost like you don’t know where you are, but lost like you forgot what you are doing, that you are supposed to be going somewhere?

Not knowing where you are is easy – you just keep going until you find your way again or turn around and go back where you came from.

Forgetting that you are traveling is terrible – most of the time you don’t know how thoroughly lost you are.

*********

My friend and I walked on together toward the East, each bearing our own spiders. I never became comfortable with my new unwelcome companion, but my traveling partner provided some comfort.

We walked until the forest ended. As the trees began to thin, the path descended down into a valley that led between two sheer cliff faces. The path coming out of the forest was clear and surrounded by green foliage; the path going into the valley was desolate and littered with boulders.

“Are you sure this is the way?” I asked my friend.

“No,” my friend replied, never slowing down, “but it is the path we are on, and I think it is the right way.”

I followed my friend toward the shadowy valley.

As we approached the valley, we saw people on each cliff face. They were yelling at people on the other cliff and throwing large rocks at them.

“People must not go into this valley!” the people on the South side screamed. “This is the valley of death!” They threw rocks at the people on the other side.

“This valley is the only way to the East!” the people on the North side screamed back. “People must get through the valley or they will never get where they are going!” They threw rocks back at the people on the other side.

As we approached, I was almost hit with a rock. I shudder to think of what would have happened if it had hit me.

“What should we do?” I asked my friend.

“We should keep our heads down and not get drawn in to the fight,” my friend replied.

“But the people on the South side are trying to keep people from traveling to the East,” I reasoned. “They have to be stopped! They almost hit me!”

“The people on the North side are also throwing rocks,” my friend said. “They both need to stop, and they are both keeping people from traveling to the East.”

Since my friend was obviously wrong, I picked up the rock that almost hit me and walked to the northern cliff face. Another rock shattered near my head. I screamed an insult and threw my rock at someone on the southern cliff face.

My spider whispered something, but I could not hear it.

“Stop throwing rocks!” I yelled to the southern cliff face. I picked up another rock and threw it. Someone on the other side yelled something back.

I smiled toward my friend, but could not find them. I searched frantically for a few seconds, but a flying rock made me duck for cover. I threw a rock back.

“Come help me!” I called to my friend. The only response was another rock exploding near my face.

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Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

Is It Over? (On This Road)

White.

Blinding, bright white.

Have you ever thought you were dead?

More than being afraid because you don’t know what’s ahead, you feel so…exposed.

That is what is frightening about the “light at the end of the tunnel” – not that you don’t know what you will see, but that everyone there will see you.

*********

The blinding light flooded my eyes while they were still closed.

My back and neck and head throbbed.

I realized I was lying on my back, and that someone was speaking to me.

Maybe I wasn’t dead after all.

“…right…fraid…here,” a voice said.

As I opened my eyes, warm tears streamed out and down the sides of my face. I quickly closed my eyes. I was looking straight up into the sky, and the sun was at its zenith.

“Rest,” said the voice. “But don’t open your eyes.”

I took the voice’s advice.

When I next awoke, the sun frolicked in the leaves to the West, but I still felt exposed.

I opened my eyes to the softer green light.

“Please try to stay calm. I am here with you,” the voice said.

I lay looking up at the shifting green light and my vision started to clear.

“You were bitten by a spider,” my new friend said.

“I know,” I replied. “I saw it right before I felt the bite.”

“It’s good that you saw it. The spider is big enough that, if you hadn’t seen it first, it would have killed you. That’s how these things work – if you can’t see them, they are deadly.”

“I’m glad I saw it, then,” I replied, still sore and weak. “Where did the spider go?”

“Don’t be afraid,” my friend said. “These things don’t just leave when you see them. They stay around for a long time.” My friend touched my hand and looked in my eyes.

My friend looked concerned.

“The spider is still on you.”

“Get it off!” I screamed, scrambling backward on my hands and feet. I looked down at my chest and saw it there, looking up at me, inches away from my face. “GET IT OFF!”

“I can’t!” my friend yell back. “Please calm down! I have a spider too. If you are calm and pay attention to them, they hardly ever bite.”

“I want it off me!” I yelled, trying to brush the beast from my chest. Before I hit it, it darted quickly down to my stomach and back up to my heart.

“It won’t come off you,” my friend said. “I’m sorry.”

The spider sat on my chest, looked at me. I looked back.

“Just make sure you keep seeing it,” my friend said. “I’ve had mine for years. It almost becomes a kind of traveling companion. Not a friend, exactly, but someone who is honest with you. My spider…whispers…to me. I know that sounds weird, but she keeps me…honest.”

“I don’t want a spider,” I pleaded, to my spider or my friend or both.

“I know,” said my friend. “But you have one.”

I slowly stood up, and my spider crawled up on my left shoulder and seemed to settle there.

“Walk with me for a while,” my friend offered. “We can talk.”

“Thank you,” I said, eyeing my spider. “I would really like that.”

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

What’s Your Problem? (On This Road)

Though I had cleared the spider web and the trees, the monkey kept repeating, “The spider is on you. The spider will kill you.”

I continued walking until I could not hear the monkey anymore and surveyed my surroundings.

The road was much the same as it had been on the other side of the web, with forest on either side of the road. I saw other webs off in the trees, but only the web I had already crawled under got near my path.

I searched again every place I could see or reach on my body; still I found no spider. I decided to keep walking and assumed the monkey was wrong.

As I walked, other travelers came up behind me. One of them said, “Hey, there is a spider on your shoulder.” I brushed my shoulder quickly, but hit nothing. I bushed the other shoulder to the same result.

“You must have picked up that joke from the monkey,” I replied with a knowing smile.

“What monkey?” the fellow traveler replied. “You just missed the spider. It’s on your back now.”

“Get it off!” I shouted, hitting my jacket against my back.

“I can’t!” she shouted back, “it’s too fast! You keep missing it by just an inch every time!”

“Stop,” I said, realizing the trick. “You’re goading me just like that monkey by the web did.”

“I never saw a monkey or a web,” she replied. “I’m sorry. There really is a spider on you, and I think it’s biting you.”

“Ha, ha,” I replied, done with the conversation.

“Good luck,” she replied. She and her companions walked on.

As I continued walking through the forest toward what I thought was the East, I found myself out of breath and tired. Several groups of travelers passed, all warning me of the same thing: there is a spider on me. I never saw or touched the spider, so I never believed them.

As days went on, the warnings became more urgent. “There is a pretty big spider on you, friend!” Still, I could never feel or see the spider. I decided they were crazy.

Eventually I ignored the warnings. “Um, there is a pretty big spider on you.”

“Oh, hi. How are you doing?”

“I’m okay, but there is a pretty scary spider on your back!”

“This is the way to the East, right?”

“Uh, yeah, I think so. Good luck with that spider.”

“Happy travels to you!”

After days of walking in the forest, the unexpected happened.

Out of the corner of my eye, on my left shoulder, a spider leg came into view, right as searing pain burned into my neck.

After was only darkness.

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

What Does a Monkey Know? (On This Road)

I continued to travel toward the East, confident I could make progress and eventually arrive.

I tried a number of paths off the main road, but they all led to dead ends or circled back toward the West.

The problem was that the main road I was on eventually narrowed to no more than a footpath, across which a spider had built an enormous web. I do not like spiders, and there was no way around, so I backtracked to find another path that led East.

There was none. Every path lead to a dead-end or circled back toward the West.

And so I came at last, all other routes exhausted, to stand before the spider web that crossed the path I needed to travel. A monkey sat nearby, to the left of the web.

I looked beside the path to see if I could edge around the web. The trees and underbrush were thick. “You can’t go that way,” a voice said.

I looked around. There was only me, the small spider on the web, and the monkey, who looked like she was asleep.

I looked at the spider. “She will kill you,” said the voice from the left.

I looked at the monkey. She still sat with her eyes closed.

“I need to get around this web,” I said to the monkey. She did not respond. “There has to be a way around it.”

The monkey opened her eyes and looked at me. “You can’t go around it,” said the monkey, “and if you get close to the spider, she will kill you.”

I was surprised the monkey was so insistent that the spider was deadly. The spider just looked like a common garden spider.

“I am going to get around this web,” I said to the monkey. “Will you help me?”

“The spider will kill you,” said the monkey.

“I’m beginning to think you aren’t very smart,” I replied.

I continued to try to find a way around the narrow spot in the road to circumvent the spider and its web. “You can’t go that way,” the monkey said periodically.

I tried to squeeze through some trees on the right. “You can’t go…”

“SHUT UP!” I screamed.

I glared at the monkey as I untangled myself from the trees.

I looked at the web and realized there was some clearance near the ground. I could shimmy under the web and hopefully not disturb the spider.

I approached the web and started to crawl. “The spider will kill you,” said the monkey.

I continued to crawl, my head going under the web.

“The spider will KILL you,” the monkey said again.

I continued to crawl, my shoulders clearing the web.

“The SPIDER will KILL YOU,” the monkey said.

I pulled my legs out from under the web, standing up on the other side.

“THE SPIDER WILL KI…”

“I’VE CLEARED THE WEB, YOU STUPID MONKEY!” I yelled back.

“The spider is on you,” the monkey almost whispered. “The spider will kill you.”

I looked at the web. The spider was not there.

I took my jacket off and shook it vigorously, hoping that if the spider was on it, she would fall off. I rubbed my hands through my hair, down my arms and chest and legs, and across my shoulders and lower back, hoping to dislodge the spider. Nothing fell off me. I started to think the monkey was trying to trick me.

“The spider is on you,” the monkey said with sadness in her voice.

“The spider is NOT on me,” I told the monkey, slapping my jacket across my back to make sure. “She probably just climbed up one of these trees because of all your screaming.”

“The spider will kill you,” the monkey lamented.

I shook my head and began to travel the road beyond the web. I had cleared one of the biggest obstacles on my travel to the East, and I wasn’t going to let the monkey discourage me.

What does a monkey know, anyway?

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

How Do I Walk with Them? (On This Road)

My travels on this road take me to places light and dark, always with the hope of making it to a place of plenty, a place of happiness, a place of peace. Still, that place, if it exists, seems always out of reach.

Instead, I find myself traveling with people who are happy and sad, hopeful and despairing, courageous and fearful. Some of the people I walk with seem easier to travel with than others. Sometimes we walk together for quite some time; other times I can barely stand to walk one mile with them.

I decided that my attitude toward my fellow travelers was poor; I wanted to learn to walk with and enjoy the company of more and more people. I wondered how I might accomplish this.

I decided I would treat everyone the same – like their attitudes and feelings didn’t matter. When a fellow traveler was sad, I ignored their feelings and remarked on the pleasantness of the day; when another was angry, I asked them what their favorite food was. When another was happy, I never asked why.

This decision left me without many traveling companions. So I changed my tactic.

I decided I would treat everyone as if they were me – like I understood their experiences completely. When one was happy, I told her I was glad, but that she should enjoy it while it lasts. To the next who was angry, I told him that he was going to make bad decisions if he let his emotions take charge. To the next who was sad, I suggested she look on the bright side of life – that there is always something to be happy about.

Again, I was left with few traveling companions.

I did not know what to do.

I sat by the side of the road, tired and thirsty and alone, and watched my fellow travelers as they walked by. I noticed a gurgling sound behind me. Water was flowing out of the side of a small boulder. I dipped my hands in the water from the rock; it was cool and clean. I drank some of the water and splashed some on my hot head.

When I turned back toward the road, I could…the only thing that makes sense is that I could…see through?…see into?…my fellow travelers. Most of them were adults, fully grown…but I could see through or into them, to a child inside. Every single person, young or old, had a child inside, maybe three or four years old.

I began to speak to the child inside a man who was walking by. I greeted him like I would have greeted my friend when I was younger: “Hi! Wanna walk together?” His eyes widened, and he looked behind himself briefly. “Yeah,” he said.

We walked together for a while. When he got angry about tripping on the road, I talked to the child inside him: “Tripping hurts. I’m sorry that happened.” His frown faded, “Yeah, it does. I’ll be okay, though.” We kept walking.

I wondered what it would be like to speak to my fellow travelers, acknowledging the child inside them all.

I wondered if my vision would fade and I would forget to treat people like they are doing the best they can.

I wondered if all of us just need someone to listen and respond to the child inside. I wonder if that’s the secret to walking with anyone.

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

How Do I Get Where I Want to Go? (On This Road)

My traveling companions and I continued walking, taking all the turns that we believed would take us to the brilliant, safe, peaceful land in the East.

Some other travelers told us we were taking the wrong paths, heading in the wrong direction; others encouraged us and even traveled with us for a while.

But no matter how long we walked, how certain we were that we were making good progress, the shining East always seemed far away, and the dark West always seemed close and looming.

Despite our apparent lack of progress, my friends and I kept walking, kept encouraging one another.

One morning, as the sun was rising, I saw a vision; or maybe the sun in the East spoke to me; or maybe it was just a dream. The road around me filled with a warm glow. A calm silence fell over my world. I felt like what I imagine it feels like to be in the East – grounded, at peace, free.

A voice welled up from all around me, or maybe from inside me. It was a quiet voice, something like a whisper or a breath, but with the resonance of thunder.

The voice said, “You are here.

I had no idea what that meant. Of course I am here; what was astounding was that the warm voice of…whatever…the East?…was also here.

I did not know what to say.

“How do I get to the East?” I asked, hoping maybe for a sure route, or even a shortcut.

You bring the East with you.

That didn’t make sense, because I could see the East off in the distance, and feel the darkness of the West over my shoulder, threatening.

“My friends and I want to make it to the East to be safe and happy. We want to avoid going West because it is dangerous and dark.”

The voice did not respond, but the feeling of the East stayed with me for a while. I don’t know when or how it wore off. But as my friends started waking for our day’s travel, I couldn’t help but feel the East in their faces and their presence.

I decided I wanted to share that same feeling, be that same presence, with the people I met on this road.

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road

Which Way Do I Go? (On This Road)

I continued walking and other paths began to intersect with my path. I met people traveling these paths.

Some people walked with me on my path for a while. We traveled together; we enjoyed each other’s company; we ate together; we kept each other safe at night. These people became my traveling companions. Sometimes we would walk together for days. Sometimes our paths would only intersect for a few hours. I cherished each companion for as long as we traveled together and never forgot one after our paths diverged.

As we traveled together, we noticed that the land far to the east was lush with vegetation and partitioned by meandering streams. The land in the distance to the west seemed perpetually overcast, even during the day, and dotted with skeletal trees and little shelter. My companions and I decided to try to travel to the land to the east. We could make a home there, find food there, live in peace there.

Some people crossed paths with me and my companions and told us we were going the wrong way.

“You should seek the land to the east!” one exclaimed. “Anyone trying to go west cannot be a good and sane person!”

“My friends and I are trying to go east,” I explained. “Are we going the wrong direction?”

“You are!” the stranger warned. “The path you are on will take you west!”

We thanked the stranger and turned around. After only a few minutes, another stranger yelled at us, “Monsters! You are headed toward the dark land!”

“We were told this is the path that leads to the east,” I explained, trying to calm the situation.

“You are wrong! You are trying to trick me! I will not follow you!” the stranger bellowed, running off in the direction we had just come from.

How are we to know how to go east if no matter which way we go we are told we are wrong?

My companions and I decided to do our best to head in the direction of the place we wanted to go.

Original Photo by Alan Heardman

Posted in Metaphor, On This Road