What If My Map Is Broken?

Our next All Nine summer guest, Roslynn Pryor, has been a steady and welcome presence in my virtual world for the past few years through mutual friends and writing passions enabled by social media. Roslynn is a veteran high school English teacher, lit-jock, poet, occasional blogger at Pushing the Bruise, and aspiring novelist.  Her passions are wide-ranging, and include exploring the growth mindset and the benefits of failure.  She is a lover of the natural world, lying indulgently in bed and “wasting” the day reading, and photographing amazing skies and other beauties, all of which are easy to do in California, where she resides with her animal menagerie.

*****

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Image by Roslynn Pryor

What if My Map is Broken

by Rosylnn Pryor 

Wanderer, wayfarer, walker, pilgrim…the way is made by walking.

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the way is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road–
Only wakes upon the sea.

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

-Antonio Machado, “Proverbios y cantares XXIX” in Campos de Castilla

As a child, growing up in a very Christian household, I came to believe that God had my life planned out, every step of the way.  He had a roadmap for me; I just had to find it, to pray for it to become clear.

But funny enough, while this idea brought some comfort, it was also quite an anxious thing.  It led to—gasp—questions!  What if I’m on the wrong pathway? What if I’m using someone else’s map? What if I miss the exit, take a wrong turn, don’t feel God leading?  What if, what if, what if?

My choice of college (small, Christian, local) felt like the next destination my God map.  I stroke my chin at this now, dubiously attributing it rather to my own fear and insecurity.  I think I went there because it was small and well-situated within a familiar Christian bubble.  It was comfort territory.

But at the time, it felt destined.  I could see how my life was going to unfold.  I was going to pursue my English major, excel, graduate on time, become a teacher or a professor, go to grad school, earn my Ph.D. by the time I was 30, reward myself with a Harley.

It was all clear.  I was just walking the marked pathway.

My first inkling that the roadmap I clutched in my hands might not be so accurate was when college became hard and I grew depressed.  Then I had to drop out and work full-time for a semester due to finances (not in the plans!), and my already challenged notions of guidance were erased.

Clearly there was no roadmap.  Clearly God, love me though he might, did not have a wonderful plan for my life.  Disillusioned is the best term I can apply to myself; angry, wandering, and terrified are every bit as accurate.

Wanderer, there is no road…

I graduated on time anyway, on grace from many sources.  Then I secretaried aimlessly for over six years, caught in the whirlpool of bills and paychecks, of dreams and cluelessness.  When I finally hated the job enough, I went back to school for my teaching credential.

And almost I believed in the roadmap again.  I said I didn’t, but it seemed pretty mappish to me.  Sixteen years of consistency and comfort reinforced the notion.

And then upheaval, imbalance, and unpredictability visited.  After almost two decades of stability, I find myself again looking at a blank piece of parchment in my hand—a thing I had thought a map—and wishing for more direction, silly me.

And St. Benedict’s maxim comforts me: “Always we begin again.”

Slow learner that I am, I realize anew that my choices are the direction.

Wayfarer, […] the way is made by walking…

The map is not made in advance.  The trail is not blazed before me.  I create the trail through my choices, charting my map after each footfall.

Pilgrim, your footsteps are the road…

I talk with my students and fellow writers about how “there is no formula.”  Because I believe there isn’t.  The pathway is what we make it.  And we will make some wrong turns; stumbling into the underbrush is part of the journey.  Walking blindly, stupidly, is sometimes inevitable.

But the point is to keep fixing sightlines, and to keep walking.  And maybe someone will come by to walk with us for a bit and give us some context for our surroundings.  But ultimately we—okay, I—I am the one who must get up off the roadside stump and put one foot in front of the other.

Walker…the way is made by walking…and nothing more…

Besides, a map may not be the best tool to carry.

In an essay, Srini Rao of the Unmistakable Creative podcast writes, “A map reveals a limited set of possibilities.”  A compass, he asserts, is possibly more appropriate, and our “why” is the compass.  Our “why” will keep us going.  Our “why” will help us find, or rather make, the way.

Do I remember my “why”?

St. Augustine said, “Solvitur ambulando.”  That is, “In walking it is solved.”  Man, I hope so.  I lace up my sturdy shoes to relearn this gentle lesson (again).

Traveler, upon glancing behind one sees the path…

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