Detours

Last fall, I did some substitute teaching while I looked for a full-time job. One day I was working at a school in the north part of the city. It was a beautiful fall day, and I had an abnormally long lunch break, so I decided to take a walk. I knew I was close to a trail that cuts through a large portion of the city, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. So I started walking east, cutting through side streets as necessary.

I saw a path into the woods and took it, despite having no idea if the path would take me where I wanted to go. I also had this fear that I might be walking on someone else’s property. The ground was a bit muddy, and I was wearing dress clothes and shoes. The path wasn’t well-kept and nor was it the least bit straight. My sight was so limited by the trees that surrounded me. I would walk up to a particular bend, hoping to see my destination just across the way, only to arrive at another short patch of path that equally obscured my perspective.

Damnit, I know this thing is literally a couple blocks from me; why can’t I get there? The path was like so much of life that feels elusive, just beyond my reach. Eventually, I emerged from the woods onto a patch of land that jutted into a river. As I looked out, I could see, maybe a few hundred yards away, a reddish-brown bridge with the trail’s name painted on it. The only problem? There was water in-between me and the trail, and there was no way that I could see to get to it.

To my right, and at a higher plane, was another bridge. I could hear cars driving by. The road seemed more doable than the river, but it would involved more walking, as it would take me quite literally in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. But if I could get to the street, then I could go south, and take a different street to the east. This little stroll was becoming a test of my resilience. I’m going to get to that damn trail.

And eventually I did. I just didn’t take straight lines to get there. The journey was longer than I wanted it to be. I had to laugh at myself along the way. And I guess the destination I had in mind was never really as much the point as it had seemed to be in my head. No, in hindsight, the “along-the-way” accidents and insights were what stayed with me.

On my way back to the school that day, I thought back to a recent conversation I’d had with David Engwicht, an Australian place-making consultant. He told me that communities invariably only know twenty percent of what they want when they start to take action. It occurred to me later that maybe that’s what faith is, knowing so little about what lies ahead, but choosing to move anyway out of vague sense of desire that there might be something better ahead. And the only way forward is press on through the unexpected challenges and pain that I feel along the way.

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