To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.
— Naomi Shihab Nye
It might be good advice — traveling a journey without roads. It would eliminate the decisions one must make when roads cross. It would eliminate the uncertainty when the path ahead seems unclear. We wouldn’t have to plot a course and explore all the possible routes. We might experience freedom on the journey that we have never before experienced.
I have to admit, though, I am a person who is all about road metaphors for life. I am a lover of walking labyrinths and walking the sacred path. I am constantly assessing my journey by the many kinds of roads I travel. I rejoice on smooth, friendly roads and despair on rough, ominous roads. I walk my path with trust, experience courage and wise discernment at the crossroads, and believe that I will end my journey in hope.
So the idea of “off road” living is a new, and somewhat disconcerting, prospect. And yet I am intrigued by the quote of Naomi Shihab Nye, “To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.”
So I spent a few minutes pondering her words. With no roads, we might find ourselves discovering new places and making new paths, never fearing that we’re lost, but leaning into the exploration with anticipation. Without roads, we might wander aimlessly, passing beside astounding wonders we have not seen before. Without roads, we might find ourselves leaning into the beauty we find on our uncharted and circuitous path, beauty once hidden from us because we stayed on the road. Without roads, we might experience freedom on the journey.
The poet says that without roads, we don’t get lost. That may be a plus for us, since the fear of getting lost keeps us from the sheer, unbridled joy of exploration. Once we have dismissed that fear, we are free to roam, to discover and to observe all the beauty that lives off the path.
I think Naomi Shihab Nye’s thought about the lack of roads is an interesting parable. Its a parable about real life, and the best lesson from it may be that it is our fear keeps us from the full and fresh experiences we could embrace. When we stick too close to the roads we have always travelled, we will experience only what exists on the roads and directly beside them, nothing more. But when we have thrown off the fear that holds us hostage, courageously take leave from our familiar path, and venture into the wilderness to wander freely, we might see and experience more than we ever thought possible.
I’m not so sure this will work for me, but I plan to try some wandering that takes me far beyond my safe path. I plan to experience the emotion that comes from the fear of being lost. I plan to allow myself to be forced to place all my trust in where my heart takes me, and in God, who always gives grace to wanderers.
So the poet says I will not be lost, because there are no roads on my journey. I will not know what things I will see until they emerge before me. I may not know where I am, but I will not be lost.
Naomi Shihab Nye wrote another poem that seems to speak to this very unfamiliar concept of traveling life’s journey without familiar paths to count on. These are her words:
Where we live in the world is never one place.
Our hearts, those dogged mirrors,
keep flashing us moons before we are ready for them.
― Naomi Shihab Nye
What does it mean that our hearts “keep flashing us moons before we’re ready for them?” It sounds like a gift, that our hearts flash moons before us. It sounds like grace that, on our journey, we will see the wonder of God’s creation glowing above us in the night sky. We will be compelled to look up, gazing into a moon that changes constantly, reminding us of the waxing and waning of our lives and giving us hope to hold on to.
Thanks be to God for the freedom of the journey and the hope.
2 thoughts on “Freedom on the Journey and Hope Along the Way”
I had an occasion to prepare a class of New Americans to have her visit. they studied her poems and they wrote poems to share with her. The day that she came was truly amazing — she is a person of great humility. When she spoke of moons with them — immigrants — it was more the sense of the same moon shining on those they love in two very different places. Thank you for your reflection which pulls me in a whole different direction.
Thank you for telling me about your experience. Of course, I love her interpretation of the moons. How interesting that I heard the poem in a different way. That’s the beauty of poetry!