It’s my birthday today. I will, no doubt, have many other things to reflect on in a later post, but for now, I’m writing about this incredible piece of art Dr Marry gave me this morning by our friend and regional artist Dan Jones.
When Dr Marry and I went to Dan’s opening last month, I was immediately struck by this piece—you know my thing about paths, right? I didn’t realize I had a near obsession with them until March, when I noticed that I had dozens of photos of paths from all our travels. There’s a reason Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has such enduring resonance for so many. Paths are a clear, romantic and compelling metaphor for life. I’m uncovering every detail from them I can in my quest to help others identify and take their best path in all the Personal Systems Disruption work I do.
I was struck by this piece and then moved on to the next in the show. I didn’t immediately realize that Dr Marry had snuck away, but eventually I noticed that he wasn’t by my side. I didn’t give it much thought until I was making my way back through the pieces of art and spied a tiny orange dot by this piece—the sign of a sale. I knew instantly that he had bought it, and likely for my upcoming birthday. I didn’t say anything to him. In all our years together, he has never bought me a piece of art (To be fair, would you, considering what I do for a living?).
I’ve been patiently waiting for this morning to arrive, going back and forth between should I tell him I knew and should I act completely surprised?
He came to where I was reading with a gift bag and said, “Happy birthday, lover.”
I acted a little surprised and excited as I unwrapped it. And then I turned it over and the acting went out the window because I didn’t need my bag of tricks; my real emotion completely took over and tears sprang to my eyes. This piece, which I had loved last month in my fleeting time with it is actually so much more glorious than I had noticed on first viewing.
Look just at the path. Look as far down it as you can. Notice how it bends ever so slightly, out of sight? We think we’re on a straight, even path, but we can only see as far as we can see. What is coming is completely unknown to us. That’s my favorite thing about literal paths. I love it when they disappear, which they all do because they move beyond our sight line. However they cease to be immediately visible, that’s the part of the journey that has anticipation, anxiety, fear of the unknown and mystery. It might be more of the same, but what if it’s not? The only way to find out is to keep walking.
But what really struck me this morning that I had absolutely either not noticed when I first encountered it or had forgotten about were the shadows from the trees on that beautiful path.
Today is my 49th birthday, and I’m reflecting on 10 birthdays ago. My step dad and I shared the same birthday. On our 39th and 65th birthdays, we both knew that he wasn’t going to be around for 40 and 66 because he was dying of esophageal cancer. He had been given two weeks to two months to live just a few days earlier. He lived another six weeks from our last birthday together.
There was no obvious reason for Papa to get that cancer and die. He came from a family of healthy, long-lived people. He never smoked a day in his life. That cancer seemingly came out of nowhere. It cast a long, devastating shadow on what should have been a smooth, clear path for all of us.
I used my 39th year to say yes to opportunities that presented themselves from seemingly out of nowhere. Some of them were fun and exciting, but many of them happened in the dark shadows of my path that year. I’m only now starting to unravel why those experiences occurred, why I had to walk through them, painful as they were.
And now I’m in another year of transition: one decade to the next, squarely moving into middle age, shifting from the first half to the second of a century.
So I’m going to again spend this year saying yes.
There are many differences from 10 years ago, but perhaps the most significant is that this year, I’m not passively waiting for opportunities to present themselves. Rather, I am making opportunities for myself. I am deliberately choosing to walk into some sun drenched segments of my path, and I know I’ll walk in shadowed parts as well.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey and that you’ll get intentional about your own path, too. We’re all walking, but how we do that is largely up to us. Look ahead and make your plans, but be ready for the unexpected to appear and lead you to places you never could have anticipated, both joyful and painful. That’s the job of the path. Our job is to be present and move with purpose, faith and gratitude for the journey.