Pathways by Jamie Kirkpatrick


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I’ve been thinking a lot about pathways recently. They’re interesting creatures: some lead somewhere, some lead nowhere; and some are dead ends. Some are meandering little trails, unmarked and no more than a hand’s-span wide; others are major thoroughfares with way too much traffic and distracting signage. They can be wet as a river or dry as a bone; straight or winding; rocky and steep or pancake flat. But no matter the path, we’re all on one. The question is: is the right one?

When I first see a path, it’s likely between parallel lines stretching off into an infinite distance. It looks promising, but it’s hard to know if it’s the right one until I set off. Even then, after a step or a mile, I still may not be certain that it’s the right one for me. Paths can be tricky that way: the promise is not always the deliver.

Not long ago, there came a day in my career when I knew it was time to take a turning. I just knew it even though I couldn’t see very far down the new branching. To be honest, I’m still not sure if I’m on the right path, but I do know this: it’s a better path for me at this stage of the game and even though I can’t fully see what lies ahead, the going feels true and maybe—just maybe—that alone is sufficient validation for an otherwise questionable decision. The conductor has punched my ticket; I’m staying on this train.

In a few days, I’m heading off to my 50th high school reunion. Back when I was a student at Choate, it never occurred to me that one day in the hazy future, I would be one of those old guys nostalgically returning to the scene of juvenile crimes. But now, this is where the path—many paths—have led me and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s become of us in this very different world.

Which brings me back to pathways: in my younger days, all my paths were straight and true. There were no deviations or detours, no roadwork, no ambiguous signs. It was all easy walking. It wasn’t until later that I began to discern the subtle turns, the steepening way, the sudden obstacles, the rise in the road when the going got tougher and the decisions more consequential. But I kept going and hoped for the best because there really was no other choice.

Some dead ends notwithstanding, I hope I’ve been lucky enough to have chosen my pathways wisely. If so, I believe there will come a moment when the way begins to straighten out, the rocks fewer, and the distant horizon closer and considerably brighter than it was a few miles back.

I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I’m staying on this path. See you next Tuesday.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A Place to Stand,” a book of his photographs, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. He is currently working on a collection of stories called “Musing Right Along.”


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