Remember that scene at the end of Castaway where Tom Hanks pulls over at a four-way intersection, gets out and flips open his map? And then, a woman in a red pick-up truck pulls up and says, “You look lost,” and then proceeds to educate him about precisely where each road will lead. The roads, the connections, the cities, all in specificity. As she drives away, Tom Hanks’s character notices the painted angel wings on the back of her truck, the very same wings that were on the package he just left at her doorstep, the one that gave him hope while he was lost.
She was his guide, his angel through the dark and as the movie ends, she’s pointing him to the light. She gave him information, direction, inspiration, and hope right when he needed it, and we as an audience are left with the enduring image of his astonished smile as he gazes in her direction, likely his future.
Are you at an intersection today? Are you waiting for your guide to spell it all out, giving clear direction about which way to go and where to invest your energy? Me too.
I’ve always thought there’s a ‘right way’, a ‘right thing’, and it is just now occurring to me that maybe that’s not so. I’ve waited, paralyzed, at many intersections for my guide to make it all clear and sometimes that guide has come with clarity, and a door will open, and I’ll know it’s right. As the Quakers say when praying for discernment, ‘way will come’. But sometimes ways just close behind me and it’s the closed doors that propel me forward. And the way, well, it works out.
I’ve always thought that there’s a path that’s laid out and it’s my job to stay on it or go running to find it again if I’m ever lost, which is often. I have believed that there’s a way that things are supposed to be. But what if every road has the potential of ‘rightness’? What if there’s no such thing as a chosen and ordained path? What if your guide, the Holy Spirit, will meet you wherever you are, and help, not to get you back on a linear and chosen path but to bring light to where you are?
What if we didn’t have to be quite so hard on ourselves?
Because we don’t know where each road will lead, not really. We can guess, research, presume, grit our teeth, and go looking for lampposts, but really, there’s no guarantees. Now, in a time of pandemic and so many changes, we see the truth of that reality, but it’s always been so. We’re not promised a linear path or ease, but Jesus did say we’d never have to do it alone. So maybe there’s freedom in doing the next right thing, with our hand in the hand of God, and walking in the light we’re given just for today.
At the end of another Zemeckis movie, Forrest Gump, Hanks’s character talks about the nature of our choices and our future through two distinct lenses. His mother believed we all have a destiny, but his friend, Lieutenant Dan believed we’re all floating around on a breeze. Forrest concludes a truth we can’t completely wrap our heads around, but which rings true nonetheless, especially now: maybe it’s both. Maybe both are happening at the same time.
I think that’s right, and it helps me to process the many impossible decisions I’m facing today about just what my fall as a music teacher in a time of pandemic might look like. Maybe you’re trying to make decisions about where or whether your kids will attend school, how you might return to work as a teacher this fall, or one of many other vocational challenges we face these days. Maybe you’re standing in the middle of an intersection and you just aren’t sure where to put your foot down and start walking. I get it.
We have help and a guide, thank God, but we won’t always see or hear from God with the timing and clarity we’d like. Sometimes we’ll look up from our pile of research, take a deep breath, and we’ll just go along with where the breeze seems to blow us, and it will be enough. We will be enough, and it will be okay.
Illumination and walking it out, one step at a time.