November 4, 1997


Detours have always fascinated me. I can remember frequent street closings from back when I was a child. The orange flames of the oil lamps burned mysteriously throughout the night.

My father hated detours and he would mutter under his breath as we passed along unfamiliar streets carefully following the arrows on the detour signs so that we could eventually get back to our proper route. There was something about being in the hands of others during this rerouting. We were temporarily lost and dependent on those who knew where the streets went. We were not in complete control and we had to trust.

I passed a detour sign in my hometown yesterday and I roared laughter. The sign had two arrows attached, one pointing left and one pointing right. The motorist will be in the middle of the detour and will come to the end of the street and face this sign. He can choose to go right or to go left. Only one way will take him back to his proper route. If he goes the other way he will be lost.

I would be upset if I came to such a detour sign in an unfamiliar place. I would feel let down. Who is the detour sign for? If I knew which way to turn, I would not need any sign at all. I need direction back to my route and someone has given up in the middle of that job. I am stranded. I am on my own and I am lost. The promise of an orderly route to my destination has been summarily withdrawn.

I wonder what the lesson is in this crazy detour sign. I think of the frequent detours which I take in my life. I will often have an objective or a destination, but I will find myself off wandering on a detour, large or small. In the legal system there is a phrase for this. When an employee, while on company time, goes off on a personal errand, he is on a “frolic of his own.” That is where I am - off on a frolic of my own. Something else has grabbed my attention and I have lost my focus. This can happen for hours, days, weeks, or months.

The funny part is that I did not know that I was lost. I thought that I was on a detour which would lead to my destination. I made up the proper arrows for the detour signs in my mind. I thought that I was making progress. It is only when I reach a point that makes no sense, when the arrows point in both directions, that I wake up and laugh - or cry.
Detours are part of life and are important. If I stay on the same old route all of the time I will miss a lot. I will miss all of the new neighborhoods of life. And I will think that I have figured it all out. I will know the way - the one true way.

In truth, the way is in the detours. The way is in the frolics. The way is in focusing, getting lost and refocusing. In the middle of the night, at the blockades of the detours, the oil lamps burn brightest.

No comments: