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Understand The Road You’re On

Picture of Karl Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk
January 17, 2010

I loved my father. And one of the things I loved the most was his sense of humor.

One time we were driving across country from our old home in North Dakota to our new home in Washington State. Alongside the freeway were telephone poles. Mile after mile. Hundreds of miles after hundreds of miles.

Whenever we drove alongside railroad tracks, there were short telephone poles. I don’t know if they were telegraph lines (this was the 1960’s) or whether the train companies just used short telephone poles because they didn’t have to deal with buildings.

It didn’t matter. My father had a great explanation. I asked why the telephone polls were short and my father immediately explained: “They’re for when children make phone calls.”

Even at the time I realized how very funny that is. In addition to being a great explanation, close enough to believable to get a kid thinking, it was also a fast answer. I appreciated my father’s quick wit.

And more than 40 years later I still think that’s funny.

We travelled 1100 miles. And I remember one joke plus coloring books in the back of a station wagon.

After all these years, the interesting conclusion is very unexpected. The conclusion is that you never really understand a transition until after it’s complete.

I have a few memories of visiting North Dakota, but no strong memories of when I lived there. Once we moved to Washington State I remember a lot — even a lot about our first year there. Somehow that trip was a big enough event that it became a transition from “too young to remember” to a series of memories I savor many years later.

How can you understand the road you’re travelling without reflection? The truth is, you can’t. At the same time, there isn’t any other road. You can’t stop being on “this” road and begin being on a different road. The most you can hope for is that you build the road in front of you and create your own detour.

You can be on any road you want. But you have to start from where you are today.

The good news is that you build your road every day and you can be lazy (going nowhere) or purposeful (heading where you want). In terms of meaning, it’s hard to force meaning into your daily journey. You can try, and you should try, but evaluation of such things always involves looking backward.

When I consider all the great memories of my father, I didn’t know at the time that those moments would be the moments I would keep forever. Looking back, just less than half of my life’s journey involved travelling the road of life with my father. And now they’re powerful snippets filled with meaning for me.

Changes can be hard. Transitions can be hard. Building a detour you didn’t want to build can be hard.

But every day you can look at where you are and where you want to go and head in that direction. Life goes on. Memories are powerful motivators. At the same time, you need to be vigilant. You never know which tiny thing you experience today will become a lasting memory you’ll have forever.

It helps to sit quietly and let you life’s experiences sort themselves out in your mind. For that I recommend daily reflection, or a walk/jog without headphones. Spend time being alone with yourself without an outside source of distraction.


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