At twenty years old I stood at a crossroads. I was attending a college in Southern Idaho, a place I did not want to be. In the past year I had changed my major three times. I had just ended a two year romance which I was glad to see finished, although I was lonely and unsure of when another would come my way. To my right was a verdant path lined with ferns which twisted into a canopy of ancient cedar forest. To my left, a steep, slippery shale slope, virtually impassable without the proper climbing equipment.
I stood at the base of that cliff armed with a rucksack and a couple of tattered maps. I wanted to take the path which scaled that rocky crag, but my mother barred the way up. That dream was too lofty for her imagination. She believed that women could only travel gentle trails and then only with a male companion. I looked down the undemanding the needle-soft wooded path she preferred and then craned my neck up in an attempt to imagine what I might find at the top of the precipice. I knew I could only climb that incline with help, but I was alone.
Grieving for what was lost, I shouldered my rucksack and started down the easier path. After a couple of turns I could no longer see the peak. I found a man sitting by the side of the trail. He asked me to join him on his quest. I gave up on my maps and followed his. Soon, the once friendly, welcoming trail became steeper. The bed of needles gave way to ruts. Sharp rocks jutted out catching the toes of my well worn boots. I wore a blister on my heel. I reached for my husband’s hand, but he batted it away, and scolded me. “Keep up,” he said and I soldiered on trying to emulate his steps.
Years passed and I stumbled more. The weight of the two children I now carried in my pack bent my shoulders. My head ached with the effort to stay on the trail. I trudged, eyes down, not watching where I was headed until, horrified, I realized the once friendly path was now carrying me toward the edge of an abyss.
I clambered back from the edge. “I thought this was the easy path,” I cried and feeling lost, I pulled out my maps. I found the place where I sat trembling and followed a dotted line back to where I had really wanted to go. Now it didn’t really seem that far. I stood up and squared my shoulders. I felt stronger now. My climbing skills had improved. I realized I had picked up some ropes and climbing tools along my hike. I had to try.
I turned back toward that shale slope, my husband running behind me. “I will climb this slope and you will help,” I called out to him. I placed my foot on the first slippery step, and slowly, I began to ascend. Over the next few years, there were tumbles and more than a few skinned knees, but I kept the top of the peak in my sights. I didn’t let ill weather or rock falls deter me. I moved upward, one difficult step at a time.
When at last I crested the summit, I stood amazed at the new vistas which presented themselves. I looked down into the verdant valley where I had started. And at forty years old I stood at a crossroads.
I wrote this for my women's story circle group. The topic was what you were like at a certain decade of life. While I was thinking about this I realized I couldn't address myself at 10. Thirty was an age of discovery about my true roots. And now at 50 I am still making choices about my future. Life is full of crossroads and how we navigate them depends on the experiences of the past.