One of the most important milestones in a person's life is when we learn to walk. This usually happens around 14 months of age (not at "one year" as the round-things-off folks tend to say to worried young Moms). While crawling lets us move around the room a bit, it was only when we started to walk that the doors opened to the horizon and to our futures.
In our earliest days of walking we are always with our parents, as they show us the world nearby. Hand in hand, we are guided in safety. We get to see places that service our family's needs, such as grocery stores and gas stations; and we get to see entertainment venues, such as playgrounds and friend's homes.
But the first time we walk somewhere on our own is the real start of our journey of life. It is exciting! It is eye-opening. It gives us power — to be able to choose where to pause and where to look.
And as each of us learns, walking also requires care. When we walk we are choosing our destination, our direction, and even each step. Each of us has been en route, and wondered if we really should be going there. Each of us has paused en route, to make sure we are on the right road. And each of us has stepped on glass or stumbled on rough ground. Those are moments of being aware — that we are on the move, and needing to take care of ourselves.
Out on life's roads there are many opportunities and pitfalls, encouragements and distractions, friends and villains. We learn, through our own experience and others' good advice, to make progress.
For most of us, life has many journeys — some long and some short. Sometimes we complete them — to fanfare or with personal satisfaction; and sometimes we change our plan, or get forced off the road by events within or beyond our control.
What we learn is that we can't make progress without goals and determination. As Lewis Caroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, said: "If you don't know where you're going then any road will get you there."
It can be hard to know what to do with our lives. There are many choices, and our society douses us with competing demands and noisy voices, from the media and people in our lives. It can often seem easier to go with the crowd's ideas — to follow along. But we are all individuals, and unique, and our path through life must be the one for us.
I remember being in my second year of a Biology program, and all around me were excited students deciding to apply for medical school. It would have been easy for me to get wrapped up in that goal, and for a week or two I considered it. But after thinking about my own feelings of life as a doctor, with its long hours away from my family, I knew that path was not for me.
It was a classic example of the benefit that comes from calm, personal assessment and awareness. It helped me understand that we each need quiet time, to pause and consider.
We also know that life brings new situations, and those can lead to changes in our path and destination. Sometimes, when we are in the middle of a storm, it can be very hard to know where we are, let alone decide if we need to change directions or even start a new journey. This is when it helps to be honest with ourselves, aware of our feelings, and open to good counsel from someone who cares about us deeply.
Life can be better when we have both personal determination and a willingness to share our heart and feelings with trusted companions.
Sometimes we cannot see what others see, because we are wrapped up in our own thoughts, concerns and history. We might see a tangle of trees in our way, while someone else — with a different vantage point — can guide us to the edge of the forest.
Sometimes our path is solid and we need stay on track, while other times — particularly when we are hitting repeated roadblocks — we can help ourselves most by letting a caring person help us — to understand where we are right now, and to see if it's time for new choices.
For those who feel depressed or anxious about how their life is going, I offer two great encouragements:
1) There are people who can and will help you, if you let them. You probably already know who they are.
2) And a quote from the movie, Vanilla Sky: “Every second of your life is another chance to turn it around.”
No matter what mis-steps you've taken in the past, you can move forward with one good step.
As we wind along our crossing paths, the people we meet are all moving through their lives — on their journey to enlightenment and, hopefully, joy.
We are all travelers, moving through life, taking one step at a time.