There’s a section of the Trans Canada highway on the mainland that always stands out in my mind as a metaphor for life.
It’s a lovely drive from Hope (yes, we have a place called Hope here, and if that isn’t the most Canadian thing ever, then I don’t know what is) to Langley, winding through picturesque farmland, all nestled in between rolling green foothills that climb up into imposing mountains on every side.
I know I’m making it sound all pastoral and pretty, which it is, but when I’m driving that highway towards home, on the island, the spiritual experience I’m having is mostly praying that I don’t get stuck in traffic, because living on an island means your options are dictated by the 9 pm sailing, aka the last boat back. Miss it, and you’re out of luck until the next day.
During rush hour (hours?), while I’ve been stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic for no discernable reason, I’ve noticed that there is a a parallel road on either side of the highway that seems to be going in the exact same direction, but is never congested. It looks easier, more free and more fun, and altogether better than the road I’m crawling along.
I don’t know where that parallel road goes, and I can never seem to find out how to get on it. I presume, since it’s going the same way, it goes to roughly the same destination, but then again, I have never taken it, so I can’t be sure.
All I know for sure is that, from where I’m sitting, that way looks superior and out of reach. If ever there was a metaphor for me, and driven people like me, then the parallel road is it.
There are two main problems with The Parallel Road. First, that we always tend to believe it’s better than the road we’re on. This view leaves one always seeking and never satisfied, because no matter which road you are on, there’s always a parallel road just out of your reach that might hold more potential.
Second, the parallel road can also be the road you’re on; you’re driving in the same general direction, but not actually on the path that leads directly to the destination you’re seeking. It feels like it, because you can see it out of the corner of your eye, but you’re watching the road over there, not the one you’re on. If you’re driving on your parallel road—as opposed to beside it—you might be living vicariously through the proximity to the path that would actually get you to where and what you want to be.
This might look like a career that makes sense to the ones around you who have opinions about that sort of thing, or a job or opportunity you fell into (maybe it fell into you?), but isn’t what you want to do, really. This might look like me dreaming of being a performer, while taking no action—no risk—to see if I could make it work. Holding out secret hope of being discovered, while speaking to exactly zero agents.
It might look like dreaming of being an author without writing a word. Of wishing your relationship was better, sexier, more loving, while resigning yourself to “what it is” and doing nothing to improve it. Thinking that one day, you’d like to start painting, or playing the guitar, or refinishing antique furniture, and keeping it a hazy daydream, without ever planning to do anything at all to begin.
In between these problems lie options. Ooooh—variety! We might find ourselves constantly taking exits and on-ramps between the road we’re on and the parallel roads that look better. Every time we swap, we lose a little steam, a little progress, a little commitment. We can become confused, directionless and flaky. We can become frustrated that we seem to be getting nowhere, that we’re not further along either road, all the while stopping and starting again and again, which takes a lot of gas and momentum.
These aren’t really problems, per se, because our lives are filled with choices and decisions and wrong turns that turn out to be just right, or moments of feeling lost but finding something unexpected along the way. Life is a beautiful drive, made of perfectly imperfect navigation and destinations.
There’s nothing wrong with the parallel road, whether you’re on it, or beside it. There’ll always be a parallel road, or even several.
It’s worth knowing which road you’re on and where it actually leads. It’s also worth knowing your desired destination, and the experience of arriving there that you want to have (do you want to sightsee, or get there as directly as possible?).
Then you can actually choose to stay on the road you’re on, or take a different one, if you so choose.
There are plenty of parallel roads. The important thing is remembering that you’re the one driving.
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