When my sister and I were children on summer-long visits with my grandmother, who lived in a rural one square mile hamlet in South Carolina (even today with a population of 500 people), we’d travel barefoot with my cousin along dirt pathways back up in the woods and over small and unsteady footbridges that were nothing more than a few planks thrown across a ditch or small creek.
Sometimes we were exploring – which greatly worried my grandmother, always concerned that her citified granddaughters who knew nothing about the woods or dirt roads or other dangers might come to harm. Other times we were headed to the small general store, the library at the elementary school, or best of all, to my great-grandparents’ farm, way back in the woods.
I loved the dirt roads and the paths and the woods, and the very slight tinge of danger at the unknown we might next encounter and how we might meet it. We were children with adventurous hearts, and though we were fairly safe, my grandmother also had good cause to be worried – even for my cousin who lived there year long and just a few months older than us guided our way.
As I grew into adulthood, my love of winding roads and paths never ceased and became a metaphor for the adventure of journeying toward a destination in life – whether emotionally, career-wise, or even spiritually.
Today I walk about 4-5 miles each morning along beautiful tree-lined pathways in my Durham neighborhood. They are not the dirt roads and uncultivated woods of my childhood, but as my eyes gaze forward during my movement, I’m captivated by the path that lies ahead, even as I have a good sense of where it might lead. What I have found fascinating about traveling familiar paths each day is how my experience of them changes as my heart opens into them anew.
I have also noticed other paths leading from a path I might be on and have been grateful for this metaphor of multiple paths. Most days I choose a different route to challenge the muscle memory of my body and to interrupt the habitual assumptions of my mind and heart. Occasionally, I discover a new path along the way or challenge my fear of taking an unknown route—though as a person traveling in a Black woman’s body, I sense some of the contours of my grandmother’s worries so many decades ago.
When I encounter others along whatever path I’m on, I notice though we might be moving in the same direction, or perhaps from opposite directions, our journey along the way is differentiated by our experiences of the path. We might see the same trees, move about the same ground or gravel, or across small bridges, yet we each bring ourselves as we are to that experience, making it quite different for each of us. And the gift of what we encounter—should we be awake to it—offers something unique for each one of us, even to the children I see along the way.
I no longer experience paths as leading to a destination. I’m now most curious about how each offers a journey that can open within us the experience of who we are in this moment and how we’re bringing ourselves to it right where we are, as we are—how with conscious intention the journey of familiar paths beckon us to see what we haven’t yet seen, and to go deeper.
To be sure, there are paths we’d be better off not traveling. The way a path opens for any of us is revealed by how the experience of life is moving through us. I now find that what matters to me most when traveling a path is what I come to understand about myself and the world all around, and what others I meet along the way encounter in me.