“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust
When I was almost a man I decided to leave my lowly home in search of something great. I so desperately wanted to find my own way. So I traveled far, down a long and lonely road with only dust and debris for company. My eyes hurt from the heavily dusty atmosphere and my breathing was strained from the impurities in the air. Finally, I came upon a small village where I met a frail, hunchbacked old man sitting on a stool. He asked me where I was going, and judging that he must have been wise I responded that I was looking to find my own way. I asked him if he knew which way I should go. So the old man gave me these directions: He told me that during my travels in search of my own way, as I carried on along this difficult road I would arrive at a crossroads, where the road I was on would intersect with three seemingly identical paths. There, I would have to make an important choice. Three of the four roads would lead me through the valley of the shadow of death, while only one would ultimately lead me to green pastures, the likes of which no man’s eyes had ever seen before. Naturally, I asked the old sage, “How will I know which way to go?” To which he simply replied, “Just take road that leads to where you belong.” And so I went.
And when I arrived at the crossroads, there were the three identical roads before me, each beckoning that I travel along it. I reflected only briefly upon the old man’s words, and decided I’d travel along the road that leads north, as far away from home as I could possibly go. I walked miles and miles through a desolate land that appeared to have recently endured volcanic activity – the earth had been scorched by lava as there were cracks in the ground and fragments of magma all around. It was a tedious walk, to say the least. The heat was almost unbearable, my leg muscles ached, and the skin on my feet practically burned. My perilous journey lasted seven days and seven nights, until I arrived at the crossroads once more. I was sorely disappointed and painfully sore. That obviously wasn’t it! I thought. I decided I would rest a while and resume my journey in the morrow.
At dawn, I decided that this time I would travel along the road that leads east. And once more I walked a lonely road overrun with thick desert sand. This walk was even more tedious than the first, as my sandals sank with each step. What was worse, along this road there was a fog so profound that I could almost feel it on my skin. I lost track of the transition from day to night as the mist created by this fog was omnipresent throughout. Finally, when the fog cleared I found myself arriving at a familiar place. The crossroads again!? I was exhausted and frustrated beyond description! What if the old man had lied to me? I couldn’t bear the thought! I felt like giving it all up, disregarding the remaining road and returning home; but I reconsidered, reassuring myself that at least I was now practically there. Besides, I knew that having come this far I had no choice but to travel down the last road. Surely, this is it! If the previous three roads hadn’t been the valleys of the shadow of death, then I didn’t ever want to know what was. And so for a few more nights I would rest. Soon I shall finally find my own way.
On the morning of the third day I was on my way once more, this time traveling down the road that leads west. I trekked for miles uncounted, along an apparently endless road glazed with menacing ice. It was an insanely cold walk, and as I walked my teeth echoed the sound of their own clattering from my incessant shivering. To make matters worse, my vision was impaired by the snowstorm that almost made a diabolical snowman out of me. Finally, after incredible odds I crawled through the snow and emerged at an opening. I was elated until I recognized where I was. I couldn’t believe my eyes – I was back at the crossroads once more! This time I was infuriated! I had had enough! “Good God!” I exclaimed as I fell onto my knees and began weeping and sobbing uncontrollably, planting the palms of my hands so firmly into the ground that I practically branded my prints upon it.
Then came a sudden pat on my shoulder. “Is there a problem young man?” It was the hunchbacked old man from the village! “You! You tricked me!” I shouted as I slapped his hand away from me. “Come now son, do not be so hasty.” He gathered himself and began walking slowly toward the area in the middle of the crossroads where the four roads merged. Looking back at me he spoke in the calmest voice, “I am now standing at the epicenter of these four roads you’ve traveled over the days past. Now I want you to tell me, which of these roads is your own way?” I looked up at him bewildered. Some nerve! “None, you old fool! None of them turned out to be my way!” I couldn’t believe he would dare ask me such a thing at that point. “Evidently,” he retorted, clearly unfazed by my evident scorn. “Now go back the way you came,” he said, pointing to the road that leads south, the road that had first led me from my village past the village where I had found him, and finally to the now infamous crossroads. “It’ll all make sense once you return home.” He then proceeded to walk toward the same road I had traveled when I had first arrived at the crossroads, the road that leads north.
“No don’t!” I immediately got up, running toward the old man in protest. “That is not a road you want to travel! None of these are! These are dangerous roads! And they all lead to the same God forsaken place, right back here!” I must warn him! I was still angry at him of course but even I couldn’t let a fairly helpless old man travel down such a perilous road. “Do you have a death wish old man? There’s no way you’ll survive!” I can’t believe this guy! “Relax my boy, I’ll be fine.” He responded with a tone of confidence, pausing at the entrance of the road he seemed determined to embark upon. He looked back at me through barely open eyes. “You just concern yourself with getting back home.” He smiled. “Besides, it’s getting late, so you really should be on your way now.” With that he kept on walking, ever so slowly but assuredly, until he was out of sight, swallowed by the dreadful road I had first traveled. Knowing where that road led I decided the right thing to do was wait. Seven days and seven nights passed and the old man still had not returned. He’s old, so naturally it’d take him longer! And so I waited until seven more days and seven more nights had passed. Still he had not returned to the crossroads. Poor old fool. At least I tried warning him.
On the morning of the eighth day I packed up my belongings, placed them in my lone sac, and began my homeward journey. As I traveled back along the road I had first traveled, the same road that led back to my village, I noticed something peculiar – the skies were wonderfully blue and amazingly sunny. That’s odd. I wondered what had become of all the dust and debris that had decorated this road throughout my original walk, when I’d first set out in search of my own way. How very strange! I was beyond confused. Arriving at my village once more I couldn’t believe my eyes – my village wasn’t there anymore! In its place lay the most beautiful garden I had ever laid eyes upon, like something out of a famous, masterful painting! The grass was of the freshest and finest green. There were countless palm trees, coconut trees, and other impressive trees with the greenest leaves, which bore healthy, rich fruit the likes of which I couldn’t name as I was certain I had never seen them before! There were colorful flowers that seemed to glow and dance in the radiant sunlight, and streams of clear, glistening water that sparkled in the golden glory of the sun above. I also noticed several animals, of all shapes, sizes, and classification. These animals were both domestic and wild and yet all of them appeared to be the former. I even noticed some children were petting lions, tigers, and bears, and these otherwise savage beasts all appeared as purring kittens, all too pleased with the affection they were enjoying. Many small children were playing in the water, while some were running around the shores of the streams chasing each other down. Some of the older children were climbing the magnificent trees and dropping some of the high hanging fruit to the women below. For their part, most of the adults lay on the grass, talking to each other, taking in their beautiful surroundings as they watched the children. Everyone looked so serene and happy! It was a marvelous sight indeed, unrecognizable to any who had ever lived in or around my old village!
Upon seeing me many of the villagers ran up to me chanting, “At last, at last, he has found his own way! At last, at last, he has made his way home!” They were all smiling at me. I couldn’t help but smile back despite not quite understanding their meaning. I had left the village in the middle of the night, having told no one where I was going or why. How in God’s name did they know about my quest? I dropped my worn sac, which a couple of little boys immediately picked up, all too eager to carry it for me. I was then escorted to a most magnificent mansion beyond the streams. I couldn’t possibly comprehend by what magic all of this had sprung up where my lowly village once existed. Then came a greater shock than the one that had overcome me earlier when I had first beheld this would-be Garden of Eden. Lo and behold I saw him once more. It was the same old man who had directed me along my perilous and futile journey to find my own way.
“How in God’s name did you make it here? How did you even make it out alive!?” To say I was amazed would be an understatement. He smiled from ear to ear. “I simply took the path that led north.” I was stunned. “But what of the scorched earth, the magma, the unbearable heat?!” I asked, very curious to know how a fragile old man like him had managed such an improbable feat. Not only had he survived the journey, he’d made it to my village, if one could still call this place my village, and he’d made it here before me! “I’m afraid I don’t know what you are talking about young man.” He gave me that self-assured smile once more. “You see, when I traveled along the road that leads north, farthest away from your village, I encountered nothing but sunshine and blue skies through and through, until that road led me here, where I belong.” That makes no goddamned sense! I had journeyed down that exact same road, and it had only led me back to the crossroads! As if reading my mind the old sage said, “Son, when you asked me to help you find your way I pointed you to a crossroads. I told you that upon arriving there you would have to make a choice between the four distinct paths that would greet you. I advised you to choose the path that leads to where you belong.” I was listening intently along with the rest of the villagers, who by this time had gathered around the golden throne upon which he was sitting. He continued, “You traveled down three roads, first the road that leads north, then the road that leads east, and then the road that leads west. Along each of these roads you faced the harshest of conditions as it appeared all the elements were against you and Mother Nature had abandoned you. Time and again each journey led you back to one place – the crossroads.” He paused a moment, looking at me intently now. “Why do you think that is young man?” I thought and thought and thought and couldn’t figure it out. “Honestly, I have no idea. It’s all a mystery to me. So please I beg you, tell me why!”
The old man looked around at the other villagers and then back at me. “Listen carefully, everyone. It is true that in life there are many paths. But just because many roads exist does not mean we are meant to travel along each road. Two people may travel along the exact same road and yet experience two completely different journeys.” He then got up from his throne and to my utmost surprise began walking upright, boldly and majestically toward me. Standing now in front of me, a full head taller than me, he placed his right hand on my shoulder. “Son, when you traveled back along the road that leads south, what did you experience along that journey?” He paused, obviously waiting for my response. “Sunshine and blue skies, sir.” Again he smiled.
“And where did that road lead you?”
“It led me here, to where my village once stood!”
“Well look around you, are these not the green pastures I told you about, the same green pastures I said one of the roads – the road that leads to where you belong – would bring you to?” He pointed to the lush green grass all around me. “You see, it is not until you decided to travel along the road that leads you to where you belong that the conditions of your journey became favorable. It’s funny isn’t it? All you had to do when you arrived at the crossroads was turn around and return home.” He shook his head at me and continued, “For you see, sometimes the way for you can be found exactly in the place from which you wish to escape.”
It was then that I had my eureka moment: All my life all I had ever wanted was to leave my lowly village, as I felt that I was destined for something greater. If only I was elsewhere, anywhere but here. I often thought. I had even convinced myself that I belonged somewhere other than home, that perhaps I had been born in the wrong place. There was no way this small, insignificant village in a remote part of the world could make me great. And I wanted so desperately to become great! I believed that the only way for me to become great was to journey to a great place! So I decided to leave, to journey to the end of the earth if I must, in order to find my own way! But never had I considered that it was before me all along, that it had always been around me, and within me. Never once had I imagined that I could make my own home, my lowly village, a great place, and that by so doing I could become great; right here, in the place of my birth, the place where I belonged.
Humbled, I turned to the old man and said simply and sincerely, “Thank you!” He smiled once more and began to walk away from us.
“Wait, where are you going? Won’t you stay and feast with us?”
“I’m sorry young man, but having finally found your own way I must leave you for some time so that you might grow. But fear not, I’ll be watching you from a distance.” This old man was the embodiment of mystery. “But good sir, I thought you said you’d traveled the road that leads to where you belong. Doesn’t that mean you belong right here with us?” He halted momentarily. Without turning around he replied, “It is true that I do belong here, but the whole truth is that I also belong everywhere. That is why I can travel anywhere and take any road, and still end up where I belong.” He began walking again, along the road that leads away from the green pastures that had become my new village. “But wait!” I stopped him once more. “Could you at least tell me your name!? The old man turned around, repeating that self-assured smile. “I am.” He began walking away again. What in God’s name? This guy is too much! “Now wait a minute, I don’t understand! You are what now!?” I really wanted to know. “How will I know what to say about you, what shall we tell others when they ask about the strange old man who helped me find my own way?”
This time he kept walking until he had arrived at the edge of the road, the point that marked the unofficial exit from our former village. There, he paused a moment before facing us again. “You shall simply tell them that I am the great I am. I am the one and only. I am the alpha and omega. I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This he spoke in a roaring, thunderous voice, that did not match his appearance one bit. It was as if the clouds were echoing his every word. For the last time I would see that uncanny smile. With that, he turned around and continued walking until he had become but a silhouette on the horizon, and then a mist, a cloud, a single ray of sunlight, and finally nothing but thin air.
All the while all the villagers, myself included, stared in unprecedented awe, fear, and wonder.