“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself.”
~Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Our neighbors laid a beautiful stone path in their back yard not long ago, and I love to look at it when I am standing in my own yard, which is scattered with hickory nuts. The path is easy to see and would be easy to follow if it went a great distance. As I look at the stones on the path, I can’t help but think about how much easier it would be to get through life if all a person had to do was to step from one stone to the next and stay on the path to be successful. Call it life’s path, road, or journey, whatever it is, it is personal for each of us.
When Whitman said “You must travel it by yourself,” he might have literally intended that we be a world of loners, but more likely he was expressing that your script wasn’t written for someone else to play the role of you. What if you stopped for a minute and looked at your life differently? What if you looked at it as a journey, a path you’ve been following? That first stepping stone of yours might have been the time you decided to roll someone’s yard with toilet paper. That wasn’t my first stone because I was too scared I would get into trouble (though eventually, I did help roll a yard). Sometimes, the stones are not clearly laid out, are they? And sometimes, often, the stones have sharp edges and are uncomfortable to step upon. When we learn how to master one stepping stone, it is a feeling of great success, and we can move on to the next with more confidence.
My journey, my path, has been filled with experiences that have made me laugh and cry, feel joy and anger and fear. While I won’t say it has been an easy trip, I am so glad that my parents gave me the opportunities to succeed on my own, even when I was sometimes a bit wobbly.
You are on a journey, too. Some journeys involve losing loved ones too early, having to work much harder to make ends meet (while others seem to have everything fall into their laps), or just leave you with that feeling that nothing is ever easy for you. You can complain and whine, but it won’t change things and won’t bring freedom to your life. Your choices are the only things that can make changes. With change often comes success, and with true success one often finds freedom.
Sometimes, we feel that we are on a strenuous hike, while at other times we enjoy a stroll. There are hills and valleys for each of us, just of different magnitudes. If you can work your way through those valleys, the hills are a sweet reward when you get to the top. That must be why climbers go through excruciating pain in order to reach the peak of a mountain. The joy of success when you get out of the valley is bigger than any pain endured. The truth is that when we try to climb for someone else, we are denying them the joy of succeeding as they find their own way.
I can’t reach my neighbors’ path unless I leave my own yard, and then I would have trespassed on someone else’s property. What if that’s what we could say to someone who tries to direct our path? “No Trespassing! Private Property!”
When babies are born, parents do what they need to do to guide the early years of life. Somewhere along the way, (young parents should take heed) it is easy to trespass because we project our own experiences on children–ours and other people’s. You’ve heard yourself say it, haven’t you? So and So’s child really shouldn’t be doing this or that. We don’t stop there, though. Without realizing it, we often think or speak of what other adults should or shouldn’t do, and the truth is that we can’t know for anyone else what they should do. Whose life are you trying to live? Whose path are you trying to direct?
If we are each individuals on individual journeys that sometimes cross paths, it’s fair to say that we won’t think the same, act the same, or have the same beliefs. Denying people the opportunity to find their way on those stepping stones is denying them the dignity that comes with succeeding. **The exception is when someone is in our care, be it a child or an older relative, and we must do what we believe is best.
There are times I find it is easier to not have someone try to help me, like when I walked barefoot on our gravel drive as a child (I developed some tough feet), or in the yard now covered with hickory nut shells the squirrels have tossed aside; holding on to someone else would have kept me from focusing on the task at hand: bracing for the next painful meeting of jagged object to tender foot. Perhaps, life’s experiences, jagged and smooth, are much the same. Sometimes, we need a helping hand, but sometimes, we want (and need) to do it on our own.
Today is the day that you can give someone else the gift of dignity, as you tell them “It’s your path, it’s your journey. I know you can do it!” While we can’t walk each other’s path, I hope we never forget to reach our hand to someone when they wobble.