"A rut is a grave that extends to the horizon"

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I have been haunted all week by this Dustbury entry and by the entry by Susanna Cornett over at Cut on the Bias to which Charles G. Hill links. Here's part of what Susanna wrote:

Sometimes I think about what my life would be if I had made other choices - gone to a different college, married young, become a police officer or stayed with journalism. Perhaps it's an artifact of turning 44 this year, well and truly at middle age and past the place where some paths can be chosen. I've discovered that living life the best way you know how brings regrets and sadness and mourning the loss of things you were never quite sure you wanted, or don't even know now if you want them. It is the narrowing of possibilities that hurts, the knowledge that if you did decide you wanted a certain path, it is already irrevocably closed to you, slipping away behind you when you were looking for something else.

I have those regrets, and I've spent some time and tears mourning the things that never were and now never can be no matter how much I might wish for them. ...

I think, in the end, the issue is not what I have chosen until now. It's uncertainty about what to choose for the future, whether the sense of inevitability is less a truth than just that I can't see over the sides of the rut I'm in. I begin to see that my problem is not so much that choices have closed, but rather a failure to actually choose at all. Is it the flexibility to take advantage of new opportunities? Or is it a mercurial nature easily drawn aside from one path to pursue another, and another, and another, a jane of all trades but master of none? Is it the road less traveled, or the path of least resistance?

For his part, Charles writes:

The problem with change is not so much that it's inevitable, or even that it's superficial what we are deep inside was fixed long ago but that it's so blasted difficult to quantify: how much change can we handle at any given moment? In the past, I have tended to guess either too high or too low: I've done something drastic when minor modifications would have sufficed, or I've tweaked and twiddled when I should have walked (or run) away.

The saving grace in all these fumbling maneuvers is the fact that they exist at all. Doing something, even when it's wrong, or at least ill-advised, is generally to be preferred to doing nothing; a rut is a grave that extends to the horizon.

The important thing to remember, I think, for myself, and for Susanna as well, is that no one ever gets to try every single door, that our time in this world is too short to exercise every conceivable option. The best we can do is to keep our eyes and, when appropriate, our hearts open.

As I look back, I see a life lived more cautiously than I now wish. Despite a strong interest in politics, I pursued computer science in college because of the secure future it promised. Rather than trying out different places to live in the years after college, I headed straight back home in the midst of a terrible recession, opting for mild winters, being close to the folks, and being near my first (and only) girlfriend. Once plugged into a job, I stayed with it, making only one job change in 19 years, and that within the same industry, never once seriously contemplating a move away from Tulsa, despite the many things I found to like about the cities I visited as I traveled on business. I look back and see decisions I made that were heavily influenced by the desire to meet someone else's expectations, the desire not to disappoint. More often the decision was not to make a decision, staying on the current path by default.

Now, at an age when I should be settling in and playing it safe for the sake of family and financial security, I find myself wanting to take risks. I'm more inclined now than I was then to follow an interesting path and see where it leads -- within reason. (I'm still pretty risk-averse.) It was a whim, in 1998, to act on my long-standing interest in politics and urban policy by filing for City Council at the last possible moment. That decision has opened up countless other doors, many of which I've at least taken a few steps through, to the detriment of pursuing any of them wholeheartedly. None of those doors so far have involved my career -- they've all involved what I do in my spare time. It takes a lot of extra time to keep going back and forth between all those doors.

At the very least, it's long past time I was intentional about how I use what remains of my three-score-and-ten (hopefully more). Time to be less concerned about how my decisions may disappoint others. Time to be more concerned about making the most of my gifts and experiences and abilities to God's greater glory. It's time to dream, time to pray, time to plan, time to decide, time to act.

Maybe I'll decide to keep doing exactly what I'm doing, but I'll decide.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 31, 2005 1:15 AM.

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