When you hear the word “path”, what image comes to mind? Is it a beaten dirt track with grass on either side, or is it something more metaphorical? If it’s the latter, what idea does it evoke? Something plodding and quotidian? Or something leading to unexpected delights?
I’ve always tried to make sense of what my own path is. It just never seemed clear to me what I was meant to do. Not in the way that some people know from a young age what careers they want. No career I’ve considered ever had the “’Goldilocks effect’ – like it could be just right. My chosen career path feels like a borrowed sweater, something that I constantly pull at and adjust because the fit just isn’t right. Maybe knowing when something is right is a lot harder than identifying when something isn’t.
We often question whether something is perfect, but we know straight away when it’s not.
Not so long ago, I watched a film on Netflix called My Happy Family. It’s Georgian – the country, not the state. It’s about a woman who liberates herself from her family. She’s an introvert, surrounded by people who don’t see her, don’t recognize who she is. She drowns under them. All she wants is solitude, to be away from the noise and constant besiegement of her family.
So, she takes this solitude for herself.
Without telling anyone, she rents an apartment and moves in – without her family knowing! When she eventually tells them, it’s as if she’s become an alien being. They don’t know what to do with her. Is she being abused by her husband? Is this what prompts this insanity? They badger her, guilt her. But while she wavers a bit, like a tightrope walker losing focus for a moment, she stays. Her apartment is old, and not beautifully furnished but is oh-so lovely. She makes it hers. And in this apartment she plays guitar and sings quietly to herself. And eats large slices of cake.
Because she wants to.
Because she can.
She dares to step off the path. Her reward is simply herself.
Another movie I love is an animated French film called Louise By the Shore. The French title has no bearing on the English one. Louise en Hiver – Louise in Winter.
In the winter of her life, Louise visits a seaside town in France to enjoy the warmth of summer. The season draws to a close and everyone leaves on the last train out of the town. Everyone but her. Alone in this deserted seaside town, this elderly woman faces these challenges with such joie de vivre it makes me envious. Louise is no longer in her winter; in many ways, she’s in her springtime. Her solitude isn’t sad but winsome and robust with learning new things and freeing herself in a way that we can only hope to before we ourselves enter the winter of our lives.
I know a woman who was a lawyer in China. She’s smart and gentle with a streak of determination that’s bright and shiny. One night, in China, she was walking home after working her typical eleven hour day. Exhausted, she decided something had to change or she’d lose herself and her family. The following day, she tendered her resignation. Not long after, she was sitting in the front row in my class improving her English. One semester after that, she’s registered for classes towards her Master’s in Business; she just started her third semester. Think about that for a moment! Deciding to do a Masters in a foreign country, in a second language with a young child and husband. How brave you have to be to give up everything and start anew!
Maybe we ought to learn to feel an untenable situation as a blessing instead of a burden.
I’ve been thinking more and more about what I want for myself, what I want to do with my life. And so, I too wonder if it’s time to step off the path. It’s terrifying – fraught with uncertainly. No certainty of a paycheck, no assurance of insurance. But perhaps freedom will taste like a slice of cake – rich, sweet and deeply satisfying.
So, what do these three women have in common? Is it that they forged a new path? Absolutely! But it more than that! It’s that they embraced the possibility that there could be more than what their previous lives determined they were.
All three reached for dessert plates and found each held thick slices of cake.