Wooden Signs on Your Journey
You know those wooden rustic signs that they have at every shop that sells country crap we all want in our house? You know, the wooden ones that have phrases like "LIVE.LAUGH.LOVE.", or "DANCE LIKE NOBODY IS WATCHING." Why are these signs screaming at me?
Well, this weekend I saw one that shouted in caps, "WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING FOR THE FIRST TIME?"
First of all, wooden sign, take back your freaking judgement. You don't know me.
Second of all, ok, cool, I get the sentiment. Maybe a lot of us are stuck in the routines of life. But, can wooden signs everywhere just give us a break? It turns out that being anything older than eight years old is really God damn hard, ok?
Maybe seven years old.
I'm pretty sure I was eight when I had to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on stage that one time...which is precisely why I don't sing now. #trauma
Where was I? Oh, I was about to say something that was completely unrelated to where I began.
Stay with me.
The reason someone out there is making a mint off of wooden signs with obvious phrases is because it gives us comfort that we're embracing the beauty if this messy life.
Really, it's that the uncertainty of life is surprisingly overwhelming, right?
I looked at that wooden sign this weekend and said under my breath, "Bitch, you don't know me...literally everything I've done every single day for the last few months has been a first."
It wasn't always that way, sure. These days I live in a world with way more spontaneity and way less rigidity than I used to. That frees me up to spend a day making cookies with friends, or to take a day trip to my lake for no reason...it also makes me a little more insane when plans get canceled, because when I actually pencil something in, it means I'm giving up my rigid-free day for someone.
Sometimes it feels like I went from one form of rigidity to the other. At least I'm aware. And I can articulate it to people who care about me.
The uncertainty about life that overwhelms us can be crazy-making. We ask things like, "Why is the universe doing this to me?" or "When is my life just going to iron out already?" We all feel like we've paid our dues, and we so desperately want the reassurance that we're making the right choices, and that we'll be ok.
For us that are older than the eight-year-old in big puffy sleeved dresses singing show tunes, we forget that to be overwhelmed with adulthood is not only normal, it's to be expected. The second our little frontal lobe develops, we get to drink at bars and have Tinder hook-ups. We also get the crushing weight of our own mortality, and the grief of losing the people that we start to outgrow.
That's where I think we'll focus today, if you'll indulge me.
<I swear this will end with a point.>
Last week I was on the horn with my friend Shelly. We usually call each other just because we happened to get in the car. We've had a decade of this. Now, she's got two kids. I've got Chipotle. We're very busy and important, but when we do get to chat, we get right to it.
This particular day, we were talking about this wooden sign life of ours, and how it's just impossible to nail down what the world wants of us. For Christ's sake (if not for my sake, for Christ's sake) wouldn't it just be nice if we had just a smidge of routine? Just a sense of normalcy? We don't ask for much, but just a tiny bit of reassurance that's we're on the right path would be nice.
At the least we'd take knowing that the people in our lives are the right ones. And that's when she reminded of the two types of friends in our lives: the friends of the road, and the friends of the journey.
I swear to Our Lady of Lourdes (Diana Ross) that I listen to her, but sometimes she says so many great things in a row that I sort of black out. She said that a professor in college had explained this concept, which I will now paraphrase terribly and probably insult at least three people in western New York.
Essentially, there you are (on a night just like this), on your journey, and people come across your path. You don't always know if they'll be with you forever, but we all hope they will be. We meet people that are with us for a while, and then they head off a different way...the question is whether we veer with them or whether we stay on our course. Every time you veer into their road, you're leaving your own path, you see, and every time you stay on your path, you don't always keep the same people forever.
It's hard. And uncertain. And sometimes isolating.
The thing about road friends is that they're so hard to say goodbye to. God it's hard. There's guilt and there's a lot of grief. That person may have served a very important purpose and it's seemingly impossible that you would have to leave their road to get back to yours. But there does come a point where you realize that it *is* their road, and not yours. And there you must return.
Some of the hardest bandaids I've had to pull off have been when I realized how much I love someone and that they're not on my journey, our roads just happened to have intersected for a time.
You can also love someone and find that you may be a staple in their lives, but that they are not in yours. That's a tough one too. That's where boundaries come in. I have people in my life, even now in my twilight years, that consider me to be a "given" in their world...I'll always be there for them, but my journey doesn't stop, and they aren't necessarily a given in my life.
I have really high standards for those folks.
To be considered a staple in my life, you pretty much have to go though the training montage that Mulan did when Donny Osmond's voice was making a man out of her. Disney fans unite.
And then there are the journey friends. These are the people who are intertwined in your life, whose roads wind and twist, but that will eventually end up in the same direction you're going and will probably bring you snacks when they meet you at the rest stop.
That snack better be a piece of hangover cake from DeFazio's.
A journey friend is the one who you can all after months and start a conversation with, "Anyway...so did you hear...?" These are the people in your life that you know will just get it, even if you don't quite understand. They're not necessarily your oldest friends, and not necessarily people you assumed would be there forever, but these are the folks that you have that weird connection with that you can't quite explain, and you can't quite help.
It's hard to tell the difference sometimes between road and journey friends. Sometimes you know instantly. Sometimes you date someone for years before you find out that you've been on their road, but they're not on your journey.
That's the crappy thing about people...you have no idea what their road is until you see them on it.
There are people in my life now that I know will be my journey friends without question. Some of these folks are simply rusted in. There are also people in my life that I know will be road friends. They hold no less value, I just know these things because I'm like pretty much the old Rose in Titanic, and just *know*, man.
And then....then there are the people in your life that light such a bright flame right away that it's simply impossible to imagine that they could be anything but a journey companion. I've had friends and romantic relationships like this. How is it possible that something so intense...something that inspired such a connection...something that the universe/God/Oprah/the spaceship Tom Cruise prays to could give me someone like this who would end up only as a road friend?
Well, it/he/she/they can, and does. The universe knows better than we do, I guess. The road friend teaches us so much. So, so much. They teach us where we need to go, even if we don't understand. They teach us how to move forward, if we let them. Or they can teach us that the road keeps moving even if we plant our feet hoping they'll come back to get us.
The worst freaking thing about figuring out which witch is which, is that you have no idea until you just know. I know now, because I just do. I know Shelly and I will be friends until we're in diapers. Probably reusable ones, if I know her.
I don't necessarily now about some of the other folks in my life, and no matter what kind of shoehorning I try to get them off the road and into my journey, I'm just wasting a lot of energy and probably tears. If they're going to stay, they will. I will cultivate relationships with the people who cultivate back, and that's all I can do.
Journey friends take work too, you know. Just because they're there doesn't mean we get to let weeds grow over them in the road. Keep it fresh. Pick up the litter on their stretch of highway. Make time for them. Find the ways that they like to be pruned and groomed and all the crap people like on their journeys. In theory, you'll have these dummies forever, so make sure they shine.
And this is what I thought of when I wasn't buying that wooden sign. I don't need wooden signs on my journey. I've got a gaggle of fools in my life that say all kinds of awesome stuff that keeps me mindful, and lights the little path on my way.
I know I'm headed in the right direction.
PS, if you were wondering, family doesn’t count. Whether you want them or not, they’re on your journey like an old bumper sticker. And that can be a very good thing, if we let it. You don't always have to look at the bumper sticker, but it's there, and it's probably embarrassing.