Years ago, as I would walk my daily route to my office from the train station, I would walk along a cement pathway that cut through a portion of a back area near the Convention Center. The pathway was only about twenty feet long and bordered a lawn area on one side and a planter bed on the other. I had been walking this same route every weekday for a few years when one day I reached the other end of this short pathway to find an obstruction.
A metal signpost had been erected in the exact center of the pathway. Attached to the post at chest height by bolts through the center was a sign that read,
“This is not a path”.
I was confused, to say the least.
I had been using this as a path for some time.
But it was NOT a path.
There was a sign that very clearly stated this fact.
I stood there as my mind plodded along considering the implications for several minutes.
I even took a picture of it.
Was it a path before, and then not a path?
Or, was it never a path and I just never knew it until some unknown individual decided everyone needed to know?
Was I in violation of the law? (I pictured undercover law enforcement lying in wait to tackle me for this flagrant violation as I cast surreptitious glances behind the bushes near the now “NOT a” path.)
And now, having been caught out by the signage, should I commit a collateral violation by stepping off the “NOT a” path onto the lawn (which was clearly not a path and never meant as one, which I had always assumed the “NOT a” path was there to protect)?
Quandaries often beget conundrums.
On this, my first encounter with the signpost, I carefully stepped around it without touching the grass and completed my daily sojourn to my office.
As the days progressed, I found myself completely unable to alter my route to work to avoid the “NOT a” path. My feet were drawn to that cement like metal to a magnet, and as I approached it, I found myself looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was monitoring my movements. At one point I discovered that someone else who walked the “NOT a” path took active offense at the sign’s legalistic declaration.
Half of the sign was bent back around the signpost.
While I was inwardly overjoyed to find that someone else shared my disdain for the message this sign conveyed, I shuddered to think of the consequences of this most flagrant disregard. I carefully avoided touching it thereby leaving no fingerprints to implicate myself in this most welcome vandalism. It was easier to get around the sign now.
Several days later I found that someone else had straightened the sign. There was still a very obvious crease left where it had been bent, and the paint had cracked marring the previously smoothly pristine surface of the message.
And, as before, I walked past the sign with my now characteristic nonchalance.
Another span of days passed uneventfully until I set my foot upon the path again and found that the sign had been bent back again, except that this time my fellow “NOT a” path-er had bent back BOTH sides of the sign to completely wrap it around the post!
It seemed that war had been declared.
A few days later I arrived to find the sign had been straightened once again with the creases considerably more prominent than previously noted.
A week passed, and I had by now learned to approach the “NOT a” path with an air of expectation, constantly wondering what new iteration of sabotage I might find. I sometimes found myself wondering about it as I drank my morning coffee at home before I began my journey. As I eagerly approached the “NOT a” path I noted from a distance a difference in the sign, but I was too far away to identify the nuances of the change. I walked a little faster as I approached and found, to my great surprise, that half the sign was missing!
The left half had simply vanished! Closer examination revealed the wonderful perpetrator had simply bent the left half of the sign back and forth until, in its weakened state, the metal simply surrendered.
It was a Monday and the final battle had begun.
Tuesday found the other half of the sign bent back again in what I perceived to be a precursor to its removal. I began to picture, in my mind, the previously removed left half hanging on the wall of someone’s garage reading, “This…i…no…pa”, patiently waiting to be reunited with its other half.
Wednesday the sign post-er tried to rally against the onslaught by bending the remnant of the sign back to as close to a straightened position as was possible, but it seemed a half-hearted effort at best.
Thursday was the last gasp where I found only a one-inch strip of the metal sign remaining where the bolts that held the sign to the post were located.
Friday even the small strip was gone.
All that was left was a lonely post left standing in the middle of what was apparently, once again, a “path”.
It has been several years since I walked that route to my office as I changed my commuter route, so I went back to check the status of the path.
The path is still there, as well as the post.
It is still used as a path, and there is still no sign.
It occurs to me that I often use things for purposes for which they were not originally intended, and that most of the time that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t really do me any good.
Sometimes I’m using something a different way because I’m too impatient to wait until I have the correct tools to do it right. Sometimes I’m stubbornly selfish enough to just barrel right into a wall and knock it down, rather than build a door in it and leave the structure intact as the original builder intended.
Sometimes I look back on my life and realize that some of my views and actions were just plain wrong, and that I now disagree with my old self in many ways.
The problems I face most often arise when I see someone attempting to selfishly use another person for their own purposes. Trying to control another for personal gain is never acceptable. Relationships are not transactions, and people are not currency. Yet that is what our politicians and media elite on ALL sides consider the rest of us to be. We are simply a means to their ends. We are used in ways in which we should not be used. We hate whom we are told we should hate. We deny existence to those we simply do not want. We spew hatred and call it tolerance. Honesty is rarely seen, and integrity is all but non-existent. We allow it with our compliance, and we are simply walked upon.
We have become pavement.
A path that should not be a path.
Your choice is this: will you be the well-trod and worn-down stone, or will you be the one who stands up for those around you that are beaten down and disavowed – the ones you yourself so loudly shout down in disagreement?
Now consider that each person who reads this will interpret it to justify his/her own view. They will come to the conclusion that the “other side” does this exactly!
My response to that will be that they have missed my point completely.
My point is that we – each and every one of us – is guilty of this at one time or another. We all need to realize, and practice, the idea that understanding does NOT equal agreement, and we are not right simply by virtue of standing on a bigger soap box.
Sometimes I realize that it’s actually easier to apply love, grace, kindness and forgiveness than it is to find ways to justify my - sometimes actually justifiable - anger or disagreement.
There is joy in peace, and from this I find it easier to love.
I have found, finally, that love is always the more welcome path, and the most wonderful journey.
It always leads me home.
©Dan Bode 2019