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.