Reading Road Signs on the Highway of Life
A good friend of mine once gave me a bit of advice I’d like to pass along to you.
We were sitting in his kitchen at two in the morning, knocking back beers and talking about women. I’d spent the previous half-hour telling him terrible secrets about my love life: I couldn’t trust the woman I loved, and my relationship was a disaster.
I still remember the soft ticking sound of the pendulum clock mounted on the wall in the corner of the kitchen. A ribbon of smoke rose from a Marlboro perched on the edge of a glass ashtray on the table before us, and my friend lifted his cigarette now, taking a drag. He leaned in close and said, “John, when you have a problem, you have to make a choice.”
“What choice?” I asked.
He smiled. “If I told you that, it wouldn’t be your choice, now would it?”
It was drunken philosophy, but it made sense.
Every fork on the highway of life is preceded by a road sign, and the difference between success and failure, sadness and happiness, or fulfilment and meaninglessness often boils down to our ability to read signs and change direction.
In other words, when we have a problem, we have to make a choice.
That night in the kitchen, I’d been complaining to my friend about my fiance, but my real problem had been indecision. For several months, I’d been wasting time looking at bridal magazines instead of reacting to my relationship’s obvious warning signs:
- The fighting
- The lying
- The pushing and shoving
- The constant, nagging unhappiness
My fiance and I had several options: move forward, turn back, press pause. But by ignoring the signs and refusing to make a concious decision, we were allowing a very important decision to make itself. And that’s almost always a mistake.
We eventually broke up (never married) due to the destructive inertia of our relationship, but staying together longer than necessary prolonged our suffering; it would have been so much better if we’d heeded the signs.
If you hear a rumble on the tracks, there’s probably a train coming.
Many years later, I fell in love with someone new. My previous relationship weighed heavily on my mind, but this new relationship was different: kind, courteous, loving, nurturing. The old signs had screamed, “Turn back!” while the new signs screamed, “Go forward!”
As I contemplated marriage for the second time in my life, I remembered my friend’s advice, the intense look on his face when he’d leaned forward in that smoky kitchen and said, “John, when you have a problem, you have to make a choice.”
But the signs aren’t always clear, are they? Sometimes one sign points forward while another points back. One points left while another points right. I guess I’ve been lucky because the biggest problems in my own life have tended to point all signs in the same direction. Or maybe it wasn’t luck.
Maybe big problems create their own gravity.
I married Leslie in Fall of 2003 and never looked back. We’ve been together 10 years, married over 3. The best years of my life. The best decision I ever made.
The point I’m making is quite simple, and it has nothing to do with relationships or marriage except in the most indirect way.
My point is that most of the time, life warns us to change course before the hammer falls, provides time to make things better before they become worse, offers a chance to seize opportunity before it’s lost.
Our feelings and observations are both ushers of happiness and harbingers of doom. And the difference between a pleasant destination and one not so pleasant involves awareness, free will, determination, and a willingness to move in a direction that makes sense, both logically and emotionally.
In other words, if you pay attention to the signs of the road and keep both hands on the wheel, you might yet end up someplace you’d like to be.
July 18, 2007 Wednesday at 11:13 am
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