“It’s a long lane that knows no turning” (Robert Browning).
LIFE DOESN’T FOLLOW A STRAIGHT PATH BUT RATHER ONE WITH MANY TURNINGS. None of us gets to live a life of unbroken sameness; we have to accept changes now and then. Life in the real world is varied — and not only varied, but its variety is often unpredictable. As much as we might want things to stay the way they are, that wish is rarely fulfilled for any great length of time.
But life’s turnings aren’t bad; they’re good. As Browning suggests, “It’s a long lane that knows no turning.” While there is a unique beauty to the plains, where a road can stretch like an arrow all the way to the horizon, I must confess that I like even more to travel through hill country, where the road bends and curves and takes surprising twists. And just as with roads, I also like a life that has plenty of turnings. I like to be surprised by what’s around the next bend.
The attractiveness of turnings, even unpredictable ones, is one reason we’re intrigued by the free life of the hobo, who hops a boxcar to the next town: “Steel rails chase the sunshine ’round the bend / winding through the trees like a ribbon in the wind. / I don’t mind not knowin’ what lies down the track / ’cause I’m lookin’ out ahead to keep my mind from turnin’ back” (Steel Rails by Louisa Branscomb).
Sometimes, however, the best turnings are those of our own making. The time comes when we need to recast our lives and take a new direction. We need to cinch up our packs and hit the winding trail, walking stick in hand. There is, to be sure, such a thing as recklessness, but there’s also such a thing as cowardice, the craven desire for comfort. Comfort is nice — at the end of the day — but during the day there is a path to be followed, a road to be taken. And if the road’s a new one, or one with many new turnings, that’s not all bad.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
(J. R. R. Tolkien)