On detours

Are you where you always thought you would be? As a child I always dreaded those big orange “detour” signs which were always synonymous with “getting lost.” In the pre-digital age of gps devices, getting lost along your way was a pretty common phenomenon. The most common reason for detours is to allow road crews to do road work and for drivers to make it around the mess. Some detours are cut and dried simple, but others can really carry you out of your way, taking you into neighborhoods you’ve never seen before, giving you a chance to visit previously unknown scenes. Unexpected detours wreck your schedule, add miles to your trip, and raise nervous emotions of uncertainty. My childhood dread of detours usually meant the trip would be longer, and we would arrive later. No one ever tells you how much longer the detour is going to be, if there will unexpected waiting while other cars pass. At the same time, however, the detour might show you a new way to get where you are going. We are all creatures of habit, and we don’t like to have our habits disturbed, even if the old normal way was never that good in the first place. Detours always test the validity of what we hold to be true. Whether that detour puts you on a new road or it makes you second guess the route you have always taken, it makes you re-examine all of those old values that you hold so dear. If we could only stick to familiar scenes, avoid the unknown, stay in our cocoon, life would be so much easier, but then come the detours, those orange signs with black arrows sending us off into the great unknown, making us wonder if we are going to get lost after all. We think that we can plan everything out, that we can control every situation, that we know how the world works, what the future holds. The uncertain chaotic nature of detours dashes every plan, destabilizes futures, destroys the illusion that we are in charge. Detours delay our arrival at a final destination–home, the cabin, the farm, the office, a restaurant, church–giving us time to think about things, give us a chance to examine what we are doing. How many times have I sat behind the wheel of my car and slowly turned onto a detour, all the time wondering what was in store for me now, giving me a chance to think about things, giving me a moment to contemplate my journey, the automatic pilot won’t serve anymore. Perhaps there is nothing like a detour to put most everything in its relative place. What scares us most about a detour is the idea that we might not ever arrive at all, but will instead end up somewhere else, a new place where nobody knows our name. Maybe detours are less a detriment to our lives and more of an opportunity to do something new–learn a language, eat something new, climb a mountain, visit Dr. Johnson’s house, follow a dark trail, read an old book, have a drink with a stranger. Detours challenge our inherent fear of the unknown because we are so deathly afraid of change. Life is so uncertain that even a good detour cannot be planned. So we check our maps, look at time schedules, program the global positioning device, consult the internet for delays, construction, detours, and jams, but where the rubber meets the road, we still run into detours, which derail all our plans.