“Teach us the road to travel, and we will not depart from it forever.”
Satank, Kiowa War Chief and Medicine Man
I rode to the edge of the sky last weekend. At peak, it was 50 degrees cooler than when I’d left home an hour before. On the way there, I climbed from 10,500 to 14,130 feet above sea level in one stretch of 14 miles. I passed three plant and animal zones and visited one of the few areas below the Arctic Circle where alpine tundra is found.
Just like a song might jog a memory or a déjà vu moment, this trip to the top got me thinking about how often writers use the metaphor of a road to share ideas about life’s journey and the choices we make in life. How often have you read about the coulda, woulda, shoulda of taking the high road? Or the need to consider or reflect back on a fork in the road? And the detours and bends in the road of understanding oneself?
So many books are entirely organized around a road or journey. The Odyssey, Canterbury Tales, Huckleberry Finn, Grapes of Wrath, On the Road, Blue Highways, Mississippi Solo. Just to name a few that happen to be favorites of mine. Poetry’s classic example: Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled. Songs in almost every genre relate to highways, roads, trips, journeys (think: Born to be Wild). All use the image of a journey to make a point about life.
Come to think of it, even I spend a fair amount of time writing about the road. God knows I like my time on the road, so that may be why. Usually, en route, I find myself nudged to think about other places I’ve been and other circumstances I’ve known. As I rode along the highest road in North America, my mind wandered further, as it often does, to a conversation I’d had with a friend in which she talked about taking the high road. I digress and I write.
Consider this: three women scorned. One turns her cheek and a blind eye. Stays with her husband and keeps smiling outwardly. The second fights tooth and nail. Divorce decreed to her advantage, anger still hot, men now the enemy. The third gives in quickly, forgives without forgetting, men now not necessary.
Who took the high road?
Seems to me you’d be hard-pressed to answer without more information and more information you’d probably rather not know. Taking the high road often refers to one being a “class act” during a difficult time. Somebody on the high road may be said to show honesty or fairness. They might be called selfless. Maybe each of these women took the high road. Maybe none of them did.
In the end, perhaps the high road is strictly in the eye of the beholder. You might commend the first woman for staying the course. Someone else might praise the second woman for standing up for herself and for what is “right.” Another might feel the third woman acted most selflessly. Me, I can’t say for sure. It seems like there’s something to say for each them. It’s never black and white. I’d like to think that each of them took at least a short ride along the high road.
I am one who tries my best to not judge. If I can’t help myself, I at least wait until I’ve walked a while in someone else’s moccasins. I won’t judge these women or the road that they chose. But I will say I believe that if you end up with a lifetime of anger and resentment, you’ve chosen to go down the road with a heck of a hard load to carry. And I know that in the journey called life, there will be disappointment, betrayal, hurt, regret, pain, and plenty of other things that test your ability to take the high road. And you, only you, choose how to react.
As I sat on the edge of the small alpine pond near the summit of Mt. Evans last weekend, I saw the rocks clearly beneath the surface of the water. The clouds overhead seemed within reach. Breathing was different at that altitude. There were plants you do not see elsewhere. I was reminded yet again of how thankful I am for the road I’m on. I know I have had a few moments on the high road and a lot more, not so. I am grateful for each twist and turn, for the lessons they have taught me are many. And the road of learning and growing is a good enough high road for me.
And what, may I ask, does the high road mean to you?