As a child, I loved playing with my brother’s wooden train tracks. I was particularly interested in the switches–those forks in the road that allowed the train to either continue forward or swerve to the right. As I would guide the wooden train down the path, the wheels would occasionally catch on the wrong grooves. My train would suddenly veer off the the cyclic loop and onto the incomplete track. I still vividly remember the shock and confusion. Why didn’t the train go where I wanted it to go?
The train engineer can’t steer his vehicle. He must instead trust that the lever has been pulled, the tracks have been shifted, and that these actions will send him to his final destination. He can call the railroad maintenance crew, communicate with others on the track, and even check the rail conditions himself. Yet, there are some factors that will always be beyond his control.
In life, our tracks are laid and we think that we know exactly where we’re going. That is until we pass through the switch and then hopelessly watch as our anticipated destination fades off into the distance. We try to control as much as possible, failing to realize just how little we are actually able to control. We observe as our life swerves sharply to the right and then ask, utterly perplexed: Why didn’t things go the way that I wanted?
My life swerved sharply to the right this year. I started this blog to capture my lessons in self-improvement and to impress the graduate program I had hoped to attend. Within a month of starting this blog, I was told that a nasty infection from three years prior had never gone away. All of my friends vanished and my lack of social media has made the solitude especially pungent. I had to canceled a trip to my dream program’s open house because I was in the hospital. My plans were laid, but a conductor named “Life” walked up to the switch in my path and pulled the lever. Whoosh!
Intentions and expectations are important, as they give our dreams dimension. Bringing objectives to the forefront of our minds helps us recognize opportunities and set milestones. Yet, continuing to lust over failed intentions and unmet expectations is unhealthy. Staring into the rear-view mirror prevents us from seeing the the beauty of the newly-defined path and the potentiality that lies just ahead. Thus, we must practice a balance of shifting our gaze between the lessons behind, the opportunities ahead, and the gifts of the present moment. We can begin viewing switches in the roads as the next leg of our journey, rather than a failure to stay on the anticipated path.