Seek direction, not just ‘directions’


“When you’re standing at the crossroads and don’t know which path to choose, let me come along. ’Cause even if you’re wrong, I’ll stand by you.” —The Pretenders

 

A couple days ago a friend and I were talking over a gallon of oil-based Kilz. She graciously offered to help me redecorate a room in my house, which can now officially be labeled a renovation.

Somewhere in the middle of the process we switched from water-based primer to oil-based, because that’s the can I grabbed at the hardware store.

It didn’t take long to discover that we didn’t like the consistency of the oil-based. Or how it spread. Or the smell. Or it’s slow dry-time. For a minute, we wondered if there’s a painting law about layering oil-based over water-based or vice versa.

Instead of dwelling on it, we continued until we had painted too much to look back. Or was it until the fumes convinced us that we were painting phenoms? No matter. By the time we stopped, half the can and any concern for rules were gone.

I say it turned out great. Still can’t say if oil and water mix, and even though I’m tempted to Google it, I decided it’s best to let dried paint lie and move on.

My friend likened this shot-in-the-dark approach to asking for directions. Some people stop immediately after the first wrong turn (or the first paint stroke). Others will drive around for a while, searching for a familiar landmark, hoping it’ll end with a fateful right turn (or a baseboard with no brush strokes.)

Just as a simple remodeling project leads to another, so does a simple comment. “It’s like asking for directions.” It takes a lot of “lost” for me to ask for directions. I will drive for miles, winging it down the road, assuming I’ll find my way back. This can be fun for the adventure. Or it can delay the inevitable outcome.

The moral of this story isn’t to recommend one painting technique over another. And the purpose of it isn’t to explain how one project turns into 10. (Which, on a side note, it does seem to do.)

So, while I may not be able to offer a moral message or a grand purpose for telling this, I have a specific reason.

One person I’ve been fortunate to know reminded me of the importance of seeking direction, singular. Even if I do tend to drive blindly without directions, plural.

Everybody has one or two people in the course of their lives who make “the difference.” This person is one of mine. Through an experience no one expects to go through—divorce—he has been a spiritual mentor, a friend and a voice of reason. Three gifts that have brought me balance in the chaos of a phase someone assures me will one day be just that, “a phase” that has come and gone.

He challenged me to remember compassion and to tackle forgiveness. I was allowed to feel what I felt—however raw or selfish and to work through doubts an experienced adult doesn’t anticipate running into. He reminded me that having exact directions isn’t nearly as important as having direction. And when I didn’t know what to ask for, he gave me the tools to look up for some of that direction until I could crawl to the next hurdle.

I’ve decided this is the kind of gift that can only be paid forward, because there’s no tangible way to ever pay it back.

During a more recent conversation, his final thought was, “You’re going to have to make a decision.” Simple and maybe the most effective sentence he could have put together. Even under the best of circumstances, if there is such a thing, divorce is hard. Thinking you’re alone in it can turn into a whole new level of hard.

Without a support system, you may never find the road again.

But that’s another story and that’s not what this is about. This is about the good stuff.

I wish I had more words. Better, magical and majestic words to express my thanks. I can only throw out what I’ve got and pray they rise above their simplicity: Thank you for the validation.

* * *

“So if you’re mad, get mad. Don’t hold it all inside. Come on and talk to me now. Hey, what you got to hide? I get angry too. Well, I’m a lot like you….”

 

Comments or questions on this column can be directed to shelley@hillsborofreepress.com.


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