The Benefits of Re-Routing: Finding Hope When There Are No U-turns

June 3, 2018

A few weeks ago, I traveled out of state for work. After a full day of school presentations, I was tired and ready to get back home. Three hours away, on an unfamiliar highway in the mountains where cell service is spotty, my phone navigation lagged in a dead spot for just a moment and I missed my exit. 
Worst yet, there was no place to turn around. I had to drive 20 miles the wrong way before I could finally head back in the direction of home.

But on that road traveling the wrong way cursing emphatically, I was reminded that in life, we rarely get to turn around. Sometimes we have to go the wrong way for a long time before we get a chance to get back on the right road.

I haven't always known this. As a kid, I loved "do-overs". Whether it was a roll of dice, a hand of cards, or a final shot at the free throw line, if I didn't like the outcome the first time, as the big sister, I often declared the need to do it again. And my younger brother, always eager to please, would agree. I'd always get another chance: another roll, another hand, another shot at the basket.

In middle school, our family got our first computer. My brother and I were supposed to take turns - one complete game per person and then switch. The problem was, I rarely finished a whole game so he didn't get many chances to play. I would constantly find a reason to start over. Looking back now, my brother's patience was saint-like. I ought to give him a call and apologize.

As I grew older, my desire for a do-over when things didn't go my way continued. While rehearsing for piano recitals, I'd start over every time I flubbed a note. Eventually, I would get through the piece error-free, but the beginning of the song was always better than the rest of it.

I've done this a lot over the years, looking for the do-over so I can get a better outcome. Lots of staccato-moments, lots of beginnings, lots of starting, stumbling and seeking to start again. Parenting, though, doesn't offer do-overs. There's no time you can turn around and try again. You just have to keep going and hope there's another way to get where you're headed, hope for re-routing.

There have been plenty of times I would have loved to call "do over" when I'd flubbed as a mom. The little mistakes like when I let my son eat too much Easter candy before church and he vomited all over the crowded pews of parishioners. And the big mistakes, like the times, I promised I wouldn't tell anyone about my son's crisis, letting stigma keep him from getting help.

Knowing what I know now - that the impact of stigma can be devastating and that the lack of information and support can lead to the lack of hope - I would definitely do things differently. But, sadly, there are no U-turns in parenting. 

The good news is when our life roads get re-routed, we have new opportunities. My re-routing has allowed me to meet some other wayward travelers.

Recently, I gave a presentation and I included parts of our family's story. One of the participants followed me out to my car afterward and asked if I had a few minutes to talk. 

"Thank you for coming today and telling your story," he said, and his eyes cast down before adding, "I feel like you came here just for me." 

For privacy, I won't share the specifics about his loved one in crisis, but he said it was the first time he'd told anyone about it. He appeared visibly shaken, yet also somewhat relieved.

When I share my family's story in presentations or at meetings, people often seek me out later, privately, either that day or days, weeks, even months later to tell me their own story, relieved and grateful knowing there are others who've been through this too. Sometimes I say to them, "we're members of a club we never knew we joined -but we are in it together." 

These encounters are powerful. No matter how many times someone says, "Thank you for telling your story - I feel so much better because of ..." something washes over me. Their relief and their gratitude fill me up, temporarily quelling the guilt I still feel about my own son and what happened years ago. Often, they conclude by saying something like this, "Just know that you helped someone today."

This isn't about my story, though. And you don't have to have a blog or change careers to make a positive impact on someone else. Each of us traveling, whether by broken GPS or not, has the power to help other lost travelers simply by sharing our story. It's not complicated and it doesn't require special training. It might be hard at first but it's worth it. By sharing our stories with other solo travelers, our own roads become less lonely.

I've met amazing people and learned so much on this re-routed journey so far. My road has even intersected with my older son's. Sometimes, I have the chance to travel with him briefly sharing a leg of our journeys together before our roads diverge again.

But I'll keep going this way - allowing the GPS to reroute me, trusting that the highway I'm traveling is the right one for me. And hopefully, at some point up ahead, at an intersection I can't yet see, my road will merge with my son's again and we can travel the rest of it together.

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