On the paths we’re given and the ones we make ourselves

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a long title for a blog post before, but this one seemed utterly appropriate. I’ve been gone for too long (yet again). I’ve slightly abandoned my writing vocation in order to pursue something that had eluded me for quite a while. For the longest time, in fact. A path is a perfect metaphor, isn’t it? The late Umberto Eco wrote a whole book about them; about readers being lost in a lovely metaphorical forest of fiction and stories. What are we, as humans, thinkers, readers, talkers, and listeners, if not pathfinders, walkers and sometimes abandoners, lovely path-quitters.

The thing is though that whether we like it or not, some paths have to be walked upon. They need to be tasted, even if the aftertaste is bitter and unpleasant. Some can be abandoned, and some have shortcuts; but the fact is, and it is inescapable, that no matter what, you can never leave the wood. For it is your life, it is your reality, it is you.

Another literary reference comes to mind as I write this, and it’s the poem ‘The Road not Taken’ by Robert Frost. There again we find a mind that is occupied by paths and roads that have nothing to do with nature and its formidable power, and everything to do with choices. And as Sartre famously exclaimed, we are our choices. Frost begins by saying the obvious, which sadly is not as obvious as I thought, not for everyone anyway, and that is that although he finds himself in front of two roads, he cannot travel both. He can only choose one. It’s worth noting that some don’t choose at all but prefer the silent, killing comfort of standing still.

My father has always said that if you stop, you die (in a few more words than that but I’m keeping it short and sweet for the effect). My own perspective has never been so black and white. Although I agree in principle, I also like to stand still, allowing myself the luxury of (mis)believing that time stands still with me, though it never does. I like to stand still and examine, not necessarily the next step, but the ones that preceded my current footing, and decide what their depth within the soil means. How ‘firmly’ I am rooted to the current spot, and how easy it is for me to lift my limbs and move on to either direction. Some may call this procrastinating, others may call it fear, while others may call me a coward. ‘To each his own,’ I’ll say, and I will keep on pondering.

One of the most common patterns I’ve experienced in my life is people telling me how many things I do wrong and why I should change them. I should talk more, fight more, cry less, feel less and even care less. The funny thing is that I’ve also heard the exact opposite. How harsh I can be, how insensitive, how bitchy and how absolute. A great conundrum. For how can one person be all these things at once? I rarely ask for people’s advice, mostly because I usually know what they will say. I have rarely been wrong. My main issue is that I rarely ask. Period.

I rarely ask for anything, and in the past few months I have finally decided to ask myself why, and actually answer it. But what does that have to do with choices and paths and roads and woods, you might ask. And that would be a fair question. The answer is everything. A path is usually chosen at first because something attracts us to it. The foliage is inviting, the pebbles seem pretty, and when we have taken the first steps, before it is too late to go back, we revel in the sound our feet make when we walk on it. The earth suits the sole of our feet.

Bear with me through this green metaphor…

The path in question is not always attached to a person, sometimes it’s simply a situation, a circumstance, a road whose outcome outweighs its loneliness. So you begin to walk and observe and you must always remember to look at all directions, including upward, for the sky can be very revealing of what is to come. For example, if it rains, the soil will become wet, the path will become a puddle and you may lose your footing, for you won’t be able to listen to the pebbles anymore, let alone your own breathing. At first you are silent, in your effort to take in everything that might reveal the path’s truth faster. Then, once your surroundings have become slightly more familiar, you may begin to talk to yourself. At this point, having satisfied your initial curiosity, you begin to ask. At this point is where I begin to ponder.

The reason I don’t ask at first is because people will always tell you a lot more if you don’t. In the absence of questions, speech is freer and less limited by the boundaries of the said inquiry. The reason I don’t ask for later is slightly more mysterious. At first glance it is because I want to see what people are willing to give without the social pressure of the unsurmountable ‘I want’ (which we often sugar-coat with ‘I would like’). Someone once told me that my unwillingness, nay refutal, to ask for things is utterly selfish. He went on to say that I acted as a queen who sits on her throne and exclaims ‘what will you give me?’ in a pompous voice. ‘For I shall not ask you for anything.’ I laughed and then I got a little angry, and then I thought about it a little more, and then I got angry again.

‘What if they can’t or won’t give it?’ I said. ‘Then you will know where you stand,’ he replied. ‘But why would I put someone in that position of having to say no?’ ‘Because then you will know where they stand,’ he said again. ‘They may be able to offer you much more, or much less, than you give them credit for. Your stance is selfish.’ ‘I never learned to ask,’ I whisper, ‘not even for help. That is no one’s fault, I know, but I don’t blame anyone for it, I simply accepted it.’ ‘You shouldn’t have,’ came the reply, ‘it isn’t noble, it’s idiotic.’

I will admit that my sheer inability to ask, and ask for things is responsible for me delving way deeper into a chosen path; so deep in fact that by the time I realize what time of day it is, it’s too late to turn back, so instead I move forward. I always seem to reach a point where asking for the way in was much more painful than suffering all the way out.

I am a weirdo, I know, and a little crazy, and peculiar, and demanding, and you name it, I’ve heard it. Yet the craziest thing is that for me, the road not taken does not signify the end of that particular journey. I will walk a path and ponder on another, and suddenly a fork will appear in the road, for I created it, and it will be my own, but it will also be familiar because it’s the same I’ve been walking on for days. The soil is usually the best tell. Once this changes color you know that something’s been tampered with.

As with Mr Frost, I too seem to always take the one less travelled by, and in many ways it has made all the difference, because at least it was my choice.

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