Earlier this year, I read a great book by Anne Lamott called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. It’s full of helpful encouragement and sanity-saving strategies for those of us who aspire to be better writers, but it’s also full of good tips for being better humans. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite “nuggets” that I took away from that book. It goes like this:
“E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
This past Tuesday I attended the women’s Bible study at my church. Since my family isn’t winning any awards for church attendance these days, it’s my own little way to stay plugged in to my church, my faith, and others on that journey. These past few years haven’t been the clearest for me in my faith. I could write a whole blog about that, but faith is a very personal thing and I will just leave it at that.
But the headlight approach is so true when it comes to the “big picture” of life, whether you choose to frame that through a faith in God, and/or science, and/or your own role in your personal destiny/fate/purpose. As much as I sometimes long to know how it’s all going to “turn out,” life is and forever will be taken one patch of headlight-bathed road at a time – nothing more.
In my mind there are two probable responses to this: frustration, or relief. I could choose to be frustrated that I don’t know how many kids I’m going to have and how safe/healthy/successful they’ll be, or if I’ll ever publish that novel or die trying, or if I’ll get to all my “bucket list” travel destinations around the globe, and if certain friendships will last and if I’ll stay on the path I want to stay on….and and and…
I could choose to feel relieved that I only have to focus on a few feet of life at a time – just as far as my headlights allow me to see. That right now, today, and every day – I’m only responsible for what I can see, for what I can control.
And the biggest blessing of my week as this thought has been swirling around in my mind – is that I’ve been feeling actually really at peace with that. With the letting go of knowing where I’ll be in x,y, or z section of my life next month, year or decade. I know that my life is productive and full – and that it is full of things, people, tasks, responsibilities and roles that I love. How lucky am I? I’m just feeling truly grateful that I get to wake up each morning and build my life, nurture my family, develop my talents and impact my community in ways that are important to me.
And as long as any of us are living with purpose and making the best turns and exits and merges we know how along the way, I really do trust that – in the warmth of those headlights – we can make the whole trip that way.