One of my favorite Irish anecdotes is gleaned from a PBS special I saw several years back. The documentary claimed that the Irish helped create workers’ rights in America. How you ask? Well, we all know that, along with the Chinese, the Irish built the railroads. But did you ever hear that when the railroad companies balked at giving them their pay they would start un-building them? These guys would go through the back breaking work of undoing the back breaking work they had already done. Stubborn and scrappy and all shades Irish. It reminds me of… me.
I acknowledge that there is probably some idealized history storytelling at play here, but, regardless, I like the ethos. Stand up for yourself no matter what the cost. No matter how hard the work. Just walking away is not an option. If you go down, you go down swinging. I might be 75% German but apparently my 25% Irish is composed completely of this particular bent of personality. I can’t do something? Watch me. This will kill me? Well, let’s see if it does.
As much as I love this Irish way, it also calls to mind something my brother Joe once said. “Just because you have travelled a fair way down a path doesn’t mean that you can’t turn around, retrace your steps back to the main path and try again.”
I think, often times, we let our path define us. It becomes not the road we are journeying on, but who we ARE as a person. And when that happens, it’s pretty tricky to retrace your steps back to the main path and abandon the offshoot you were on in favor of a new one. It feels like you have to deconstruct yourself, then reconstruct yourself all over, again and again. And this is compounded by the fact that the world at large also likes to define you by the path you are on. Humans like to compartmentalize and categorize and put things in neat little boxes.
But if you can manage to keep the path a path, and keep yourself merely a journeyer on it, think of all the little dead-end offshoots and alternative routes that you get to explore with abandon. I’m not a huge hiker, but I have a fondness for those little paths off the main one that trick you or tempt you to go exploring. The ones that seem like part of the trail until they dissolve into just a bunch of trees. The ones that lead you to pretty bits of river or spectacular vista views. The ones you blaze yourself because you want to get from here to there a bit more directly, or even indirectly, than the main path will take you.
Yet I see no reason not to abandon a path when it no longer serves my needs or desires. It doesn’t shake my core, because it’s not ME...it’s just the path I’ve been travelling on. Sometimes that path is one that people admire and sometimes it’s not. But you should go ahead and decide what’s best for you anyway. And sometimes you’re not just on a path but you have actually laid down some track. It’s hard, hard work to be sure. But be Irish. Unmake that track with as much enthusiasm as you laid it down, then point yourself in a new direction and get going.
Oh, and in a pinch, don’t forget the tried and true. It can be enjoyable to walk the path of those who’ve come before...a nice beaten down, well-worn path; the quickest distance between point a and point b. Because sometimes you just need to get there.
Journey on, nesters, journey on.
Peace and all things green and growing!