Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

As the upcoming writing retreat steadily approaches, I’m preoccupied with the drive to get there—the ride alone, time on the open road, snaking New England highway, cloaked in winter. Just me, my radio music, my thoughts. That’s only the beginning, but much as I strain, I struggle to see beyond that.

What I know is that seven women from all over the country will be gathering for a few days to explore each other’s words and writing lives.

As a teen, come autumn, I would attend annual camp reunions in a vast, unadorned synagogue social hall in southern New Jersey. I would travel by bus down the Turnpike as the sun was setting, feeling very adult and full of adrenaline. En route, there were excited, hushed conversations with my companion, or, if making the trip alone, feverish scribbles in a spiral-bound notebook no one ever saw.

Each time, I would marvel at how, from our separate corners of the earth, we all converged at once. Every other day, spent apart, living different lives—in suburban towns along the east coast or on the fringe of cities like New York or Philadelphia. But then, on this day, for a single night, we made our way, our distinct paths meeting in one—lives intersecting.

I often think about inevitability. Random chance. What led me here. What leads us anywhere.

Like last week.

The Cross Bronx Expressway. One car swerves and swipes another. A reckless driver, out of control. Bounces off the median. Stops traffic. We’re not hit, but my husband slows and dismounts. Checks to see that the driver is ok. As a doctor, and a Good Samaritan, he feels obligated to stop. He works, he helps. Our car is situated so the harrowing scene is blocked from view and I’m grateful. I look back to the three boys buckled in back seats, secure, sleeping. It could have been…it wasn’t. We’re fine.

The emergency response vehicles, just arriving, throw their red lights around in our warm van. As we wait, while tapping these thoughts on my phone, I get word that my newborn niece has entered the world. Oh this ironic, fragile life.

An hour later, back home, readying for bed, I flick on the desk lamp and turn off the overhead. My husband sits and reads in the rocker. I climb under the covers and throw my socks to the floor.

A normal night.

It takes so little, doesn’t it? A turn left, a turn right. A millimeter of difference. It takes so little to change the course of a life.

I used to worry about the people I wouldn’t meet, the places I could’ve gone, the life left unlived. But there is always a path not taken. Better to focus on what’s in front of us. On what is–or will be–not what could have been. There’s enough uncertainty in the life we’re living.

We can see only a finite distance ahead; we can’t know what follows. We set out anyway. We carry our before on our backs and we step into tomorrow.

So I sit here, wondering where this road will lead.

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“Wherever you go, you meet part of your story.” —Eudora Welty

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25 thoughts on “where the road takes us

  1. I used to wonder about and mourn the same – the choices I didn’t make and the people I didn’t meet and then roads I didn’t travel. Like you, I’m finally giving in to celebrate the life I am living rather than cry over the million that I’m not.
    I am so excited for you going to this retreat. I need a retreat like that in my life sometime soon and cannot wait to hear all about it. I have no doubt it will be amazing.

    1. Thanks, Tricia! I can’t wait, and yes, wishing one for you too…xo

  2. Nina Badzin says:

    It is so incredible that you are doing this for yourself. It’s something I hope to do one day, and I cannot wait to hear every single detail.

    1. Thank you, Nina! I wasn’t sure when I signed up for this many months back, but now it feels absolutely right, and I’m so grateful I took the leap of faith. Looking forward to sharing my experience with you afterwards.

  3. Dana says:

    Oh, this is gorgeous and mystical and so, so true. I used to wonder, really wonder what would my life be like if I did this instead of that, strayed this way instead of that way, and it troubled me, and was at times consuming. But this post made me pause and remember that it only takes a few inches, a few seconds, for fate to swing drastically in a tragic direction. I’ve been in near misses on the highway, and it always leaves me breathless and grateful.

    I am thrilled for your upcoming writer’s retreat, all the unknowns, all the words, the women. I can’t wait to hear where the road leads. Truth be told, I’m jealous of your mini road trip leading up to it 🙂 Being alone in a car is one of the gifts I now realize as a mother, solitude, thoughts. I often end up sobbing which probably isn’t good for safety, but it is cathartic. Wishing you the best Dina, you deserve this.

    1. It’s a double-edged sword–the wondering about what could have been, engaging the what ifs. It’s inevitable, really. And yes, it can leave us grateful or agitated or a million other things, depending on the moment. And thank you for totally getting it about the time on the road, alone–so powerful, isn’t it? Thank you so much, Dana. xoxo

  4. Such a beautiful post. And have a great time at the retreat! I have to admit that I’m most than just a teensy bit envious. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Christine. I still can’t believe I get to do this. I’m sure I’ll spend the first couple hours simply puttering around my quiet room, wondering why no one is asking me for snacks, water, a bandaid, etc. etc. etc. and not quite sure what to do with myself. 😉

  5. I want to hear everything!!! xoxo

    1. Thanks, Lindsey. xo

  6. What a great post. There are so many small little things that can totally alter our day…week….month…life!

    1. Indeed! Thanks, Amanda!

  7. acb23 says:

    Yes, to all of it. I am so envious that you are going on a writers retreat but proud of you! And somehow, sometime in the last few years I have let go of wondering (too much) about unlived choices, or what road I bypassed. I wonder, of course, but it’s more in a ruminating way, not in a wanting it way. I hadn’t noticed that actually until I read this. Hmmm. Those tiny moments, we never see them coming…

    1. In writing this, I think it was largely aspirational. I *strive* to focus on what is, not what if. It’s an ongoing struggle. And thanks, Alisa…xo

  8. I am excited for the revelations and awakenings I am sure that you will experience. Wishing you an untethering, a regrounding, and a brilliant flight of hope.

    1. Your comment gave me chills. Thank you for these perfect wishes. xo

  9. bam says:

    blessings on your journey, and where it will take you. (and the retreat sounds heavenly.)

    1. Thank you so much, dear Barbara. Looking forward to reflecting on it all with you someday…

  10. Amy says:

    Best wishes to you on your writer’s retreat, Dina!

    I had not seen this Eudora Welty quote before. Love it! xo

    1. Thank you so much, Amy! And yes…isn’t the quote just perfect? xo

  11. rudrip says:

    Dina, These lines moved me to tears, “It takes so little, doesn’t it? A turn left, a turn right. A millimeter of difference. It takes so little to change the course of a life.” I’ve witnessed those moments – where one single second lights the fuse of an unexpected unravelling.

    Grateful that all is well and cannot wait to hear about your retreat. xo

    1. There is something very reassuring about you being able to relate, Rudri. Thank you, friend. xox

  12. Lara says:

    Love these words, Dina. I am guilty of following the “what if” train of thought, but I’ve been conscious of reeling that in lately. Eudora Welty’s quote is divine. Now that you’re back home I’m sure you’re processing everything but I want to hear it all sometime! So glad you were able to gift yourself this retreat.

    1. I’m guilty of it too, no doubt. As I mentioned above to Alisa, this focus on what IS is something aspirational, something I strive for. Almost like a constant convincing (a reeling in, yes)–and yet, there is also something intriguing and illuminating about letting your mind wonder about the what-could-have-beens from time to time.

      I am home…and definitely still processing. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you. I so wish I could gather everyone who commented here for a long, heartfelt reflection on the whole experience!

  13. That “What if” question will really mess you up if you let it.

    In college my Dad had picked me up and we were driving home and a drunk driver in a truck swerved and hit the car directly behind us, killing that person instantly. Like, if we had departed 1 second later, it would have been us. That will always stick with me.

    Whew.

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