Someone once wrote: a rut is like a grave, except still open at both ends. And a rut is something in which I never wanted to find myself mired, like many of you, I expect. Nor a grave, either, for that matter—at least not anytime soon!
The grave, alas, is ultimately unavoidable. Not so, however, for the ruts we might encounter in life; they, with diligence and determination, can be sidestepped or skipped over. Our final destination may be preordained, but the paths we follow on the way there are not.
Confronting our choice of byways was spoofed several years ago by one of the twentieth century’s wisest (if unintentionally so) philosophers, Yogi Berra: When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Again, like many of you, that is what I have done during my life—consciously choosing one fork on some occasions, finding myself inadvertently set on another sometimes. Occasionally, I have regretted choices I’ve made, and have tried to retrace my steps. In most cases, that proved to be impossible and I had to live with the results of those decisions.
And I have lived, too, with the consequences of treading paths I didn’t knowingly select. The fact I have made it this far along my journey is, I must tell you, due for the most part to the triumph of random chance over rational, thoughtful decision-making.
Still, here I am.
When I say that my life has been a series of ‘adventures’, I do not mean it in the swashbuckling sense, such as might be said for Robin Hood, Indiana Jones, or even Dora the Explorer. Indeed, no one has ever mistaken me for an audacious thrill-seeker. I would not be comfortable as that person.
Rather, it is simply that the journey has led me, time after time, from one new experience to another, each subsequent situation not totally different from those before it, nor completely the same, either. There has been sufficient variety in my meanderings across the years that I have never felt myself stuck in a rut.
My marriage, about to celebrate its fifty-fourth year—to a lass I met fifty-eight years ago—has never been dull or wanting in enthusiasm. Being a father to two daughters—grown now with families of their own—has never been predictable, but always exhilarating and enjoyable. My working life, spanning thirty-three years, was immensely rewarding, notwithstanding the occasional challenge and setback.
And now, firmly ensconced in retirement for twenty-two years, I still flit from one activity to another—writing, golfing, cycling, swimming, reading, and for the past four years, singing with a splendid men’s chorus. For one my age, the pace of activity is almost frenetic.
If being in a rut could be visualized as a straight tunnel running from wherever one is standing to the far horizon, my life would be more accurately represented as a maze, with pathways leading hither and yon from every intersection.
The fact of this is mildly amusing to me, for I am, by temperament, a person who prefers predictability, who craves certainty, who relishes reliability. It is only by dint of will that I have encouraged myself to a point where I dare proclaim, Don’t believe everything you think; certainty is the enemy of an open mind.
Because, you see, my secret wish is that I could, in fact, be certain about everything.
The dilemma I face is that nurturing an open mind leads me further from the safety of certainty—and away from the rut I have never wanted to fall into—while at the same time pushing me into new adventures my conservative nature would generally prefer to avoid.
It is one or the other for me, it seems—the rut or the unknown, each its own fork in the road.
And on every occasion, even after all this time, I still wonder which I shall choose.