I asked a friend yesterday, “What propels us toward and along our life’s path?”
I have come to believe, I told him, that although I have choice, I choose — have chosen — unfailingly, unerringly and ultimately, my current path.
My path is like that of the magnetic North Pole, and I am pulled toward it like some errant iron filing. Everything inside me conspires to guide me in that direction. Flail against it, resolve to operate differently, choose to turn right rather than left, I find myself headed always in the same direction, on the same path, on the same road.
“How do we become who we are?” I asked. “Why are we this, and not that?”
Yesterday I snowshoed the Sand Hill river. The air was a cold -7. The wind was calm, and the sky clear. Except for a low-flying prop plane, I was alone with my questions, alone with my thoughts. I trekked along the river’s edge listening as the water gurgled up from under the ice and flowed shallowly across the stones.
What propels us toward and along our life’s path? Why am I pulled outdoors in subzero weather? Why do I steal away to these places alone? What do I hope for? What do I expect to see? What story might this river tell me? What am I hoping to hear?
Is it as Mary Oliver wrote in her poem, “What Can I Say?” —
The leaf has a song in it.
Stone is the face of patience.
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story
and you are somewhere in it
and it will never end until all ends.
Down to a small opening in the ice, cedar waxwings flocked to drink. A white-tail deer paused along the trail and disappeared into the woods with a leap and bound. A nuthatch traveled the length of a tree trunk before alighting on a branch to survey further prospects. Improbably an American robin drank from the river’s edge before moving to a fallen limb straddling the river.
Again and again I pulled out my camera, thanking cedar waxwing and robin for posing, bared fingers burning as I framed my shots. Thanking the river for flowing as I paused to listen to its song. Thanking the day for being as I snowshoed the deer trail through the trees.
What propels us toward and along our life’s path? Why do I choose unfailingly, unerringly, and ultimately this trail, this road, this path as my own?
The Sufi poet Rumi wrote:
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.
Why do I choose this path as my own? I have no idea. I know only that I must. And so, I do.
Oliver, Mary. “What Can I Say?” Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, 17. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.
Rumi. “Who Says Words with My Mouth?” The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.