Spark Plugs and Pavement

I needed to take a walk. Outside, snow was falling in in large, swirling flurries, but it wasn't coating the ground. I stood in the doorway, watching the flakes fall, and rise again, then flutter to the ground, only to disappear.

I stepped onto the front porch, then descended the steps. A lone lark was singing somewhere in the immensity, and I wondered briefly if birds lived lonely lives. They must, but how much more terrible if they did, without the release of the occasional conversation.

A barking dog interrupted my thoughts.

I walked on, stepping onto the pavement of the road, and wondered at how long man had existed without knowing the feel of concrete beneath his feet. Before roads, before cars, it took days to travel any significant distance, if not weeks, months. Were we better or worse off for having put this unusually hard surface between our feet and the earth?

I walked past many houses in the neighborhood, and thought of the lives of the people who lived so close to me, and whom I did not know. I didn’t see a soul. Everyone had confined themselves to the safety of their homes, warming themselves by the fire, I imagined.

I came to a cul-de-sac which I’d never noticed. At the end, on either side, were two nearly identical houses, though one was brick, and one was wood. Behind them, I saw a clearing in the trees. I walked between the houses, through the path formed by each properties’ wooden fences, and into the woods.

The snow was becoming lighter, but still the sun refused to shine. I walked for hours, with no direction. I watched as a squirrel ran across the path a few feet in front of me, stopping for only a moment to acknowledge my intrusion.

I walked for an hour more, noticing how, with each step, my head became clearer, my burden lighter. I felt something beneath my foot, and stooped to find an old spark plug. Picking it up, I rolled it between my fingers, and thought of the long way that we had come.

Everything we had — our televisions, our iron gates, our shoes, our phones — had come from the earth. At one point, that’s all that had existed: rock, soil, grass, water. Yet from these things, we had built a tool: a simple arrowhead, then a spear. Gradually, we’d made incremental progress, adding a layer of complexity here and there, until, many eons later, we had rubber tires and microchips. Everything, even those microchips, could trace their lineage to the ground upon which I walked. Man’s ingenuity was a remarkable thing. I put the spark plug in my pocket, and walked on.

I came to a clearing, and found three paths. I wondered which one to take.

It didn’t matter, I decided. Eventually, I would find my way. The wind was biting, and stung my cheek. I smiled, and walked on.

If you’ve watched ESPN recently, you’ll have witnessed the Kid President. He’s a cute kid who dresses up in a suit, acts presidential, and dishes out diatribes on any number of subjects (most recently, he tackled March Madness brackets).

In one skit, he recites Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled. Then he informs us that he, too, took the road less traveled- and it was filled with thorns and glass. “Not cool, Robert Frost. Not cool,” he says.

We all spend most of our lives searching for answers. We want to find meaning in our lives, we want to be fulfilled. The drive for that meaning leads us to invent questions to which there are no answers.

We divide life up into good and bad decisions. We wonder if the person we’re with is the right person for us, if we’ve chosen the proper career path. It’s understandable. If there is no right or wrong way, no proper path, then how are we to know if we’re headed in the right direction?

Truth is, there is no right direction. There’s no proper way, no correct choices, no fateful trail. There is only the choices you make in this world full of squirrels, spark plugs, and pavement.