Monday, June 30, 2014

Missing the Exits


I just got back from a road trip. 

While nothing in comparison to last summer's sprawling, six-week juggernaut, this little one-week ramble still contained enough curious episodes to keep me sufficiently entertained and enlightened... and embarrassed, of course. Because what sort of Ruth Trip would it be without a little incidental humiliation?

The problem with this trip was that I kept missing my exits. I missed them a lot.

One day, I missed exits three times. Three times in one day. And these were not new places to me, either. Every stop on the route was one that I had already visited multiple times. So there's no excuse. The only remotely-logical explanation is that the open road had hypnotized me into such a blissful state of slack-jawed tranquility that ancillary details like where I was actually supposed to be going no longer held sway.

Or maybe I'm just a moron.

Either way, it's amazing that I arrived at any of my intended destinations at all.

Near the tail end of the trip, I stopped to see one of my sisters who lives in Georgia, and she and I decided to take her four small children blueberry picking with us (not because we thought that they would be particularly helpful, but because leaving them alone at the house would be a felony). 

One of the nice things about taking small children places is that once the children are buckled into their respective seats, relative peace reigns in the vehicle. This peace left the two of us in the front seats free to converse with only moderate interruption. 

That's why I wasn't too fussed when, distracted by our conversation, my sister missed our intended exit. 

Considering how many exits I had missed on the trip already, I was in no position to judge. Actually, I was in a position to thank her, since this missed turn gave us an accidental extension on adult conversation.

Later, I started thinking about all of the times that I had missed the exits, and I began to ponder that each missed exit had actually prolonged my trip. Each backtrack and U-turn had given me more time on the open road, more time to finish listening to my podcasts, and more time for my hosts to do those frantic panic-cleans that people always do right before company comes. Of course, I wasn't thinking about that at the time. I was too busy calling myself a bonehead and worrying about how much I had to go to the bathroom. Obviously there was no room in my brain for philosophic realization at that point. 

Only afterward did I ponder that there are actually some real parallels between those missed exits and the nature of life. 

Sometimes life throws us unexpected detours and seemingly missed opportunities. These annoyances complicate our trips and make it more difficult for us to reach our intended destinations. These delays seem impossible to appreciate at the time, but when seen in retrospect, each delay accomplished something unexpected.

Allow me to give you a personal example.

Just now, my dad's going through cancer treatments, which is the type of alternate summer route that none of us really expected. 

Although logically I know that there is no such thing as "extra time," I've found that since Dad's diagnosis (big time detour!), we've actually had more time together than usual. While driving back and forth to some of his treatments together, we've suddenly found all of this extra time. Time to talk about books and spirituality and family and life and how weird Florida is. He gently pokes fun at my recent acquisition of a theology degree ("A theology degree is just a way to learn bigger words to argue about a bunch of controversial ideas that nobody really knows anything certain about in the first place") and I harangue him into reading my favorite authors.

While my literal detour with my sister wasn't precisely fun any more than Dad's figurative detour with cancer is fun, both of them have afforded me something I could always use more of: quality time with the people I love.

I guess my point here is that when you deal with a missed exit, don't miss the potential gift. Instead of being content to grumble that the trip isn't working out precisely as you'd hoped, take advantage of the detours and the U-turns and the circumlocutions whenever you can.

See what you can do with that extra time.

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