Clearing Obstacles

A few weeks ago, a violent windstorm tore through the mountains where I live. I spent a good portion of my day clearing downed limbs and debris from the drive. The trail, where I walk each day and meditate was particularly hard hit. About a mile and a half in, a massive oak had fallen across the path, blocking it.

The first time I walked the path, I got to the tree and turned around. After all, there was an obstacle in my path.

The second time I walked the trail, I found a way around it. On one side, the drop off was too steep, and there was no way to cross. But up on the hillside by the root ball, I could scale up and over. It wasn’t easy. And I returned the same way.

It wasn’t until the third time walking the trail that I realized I could just step over the tree. It really wasn’t that tall. I just saw it as an obstacle, and it felt like the way around had to be more complicated. When I did step over it, I laughed at myself.

There’s a couple I see walking the trail from time to time. I don’t know their names, but they always smile and say good morning and ask how I’m doing. We are never walking in the same direction, so we only have time for one joke. I say something my dad would say: “We should pack a picnic lunch for next time!” Something cheesy and silly that gives us a laugh.

The funny thing is, after I had learned I could just step over the tree, I saw them out there walking back from that direction. The woman said “There’s a tree down. The trail is blocked.”

I was puzzled. I just said “I just step over it.”

She looked equally puzzled. “Are you allowed to do that?”

In hindsight, it’s a silly question, but it’s too often true. When we see an obstacle in the path, we just assume either we can’t go around it or else we’re not supposed to. So we just give up and turn around. I’ve been guilty of that, far too many times in my life.

Then, I figure out I can find a way up and over or around the obstacle. But even then, I get used to the obstacle being there. When the rangers showed up last week with their chainsaws to hack the tree out the trail, I made a joke as I walked past: “I’m going to miss my obstacle.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized that this, too, was a metaphor for how so many of us behave. We expect things to be hard. And we get used to defining ourselves by the obstacles we have to navigate. We don’t think we deserve a clear path.

But now that the obstacle is removed? I don’t actually miss it at all. I get to walk a trail that is open. I get to walk with purpose, and I don’t have to figure out a way to navigate around it.

The past few months, I’ve been busting my ass to remove the obstacles that prevented me from living the life I wanted. I’ve grown stronger. I’ve left personal interactions that were holding be back. I’ve claimed parts of my life and started fixing things that needed fixing, not avoiding them. I’m not the man I was, and I’m only getting stronger and more whole.

I realize I’ve been attached to all these obstacles in my life. I’ve used them as excuses. But now that they’re out of the way? Well, now there’s nothing preventing me from claiming the life I want. That makes me a force to be reckoned with. I’m stronger than any doubt; and I’m confident in my ability to do whatever it takes to succeed.

I’m not the man I was just a few months ago. I know what I’m worth. I know that I won’t settle.

I’ve already let go.

The path is clear.

I’m walking with purpose.

And I won’t stop.

Robert F. James is a lecturer in creative writing at San Jose State University. He’s been a professional writer his entire adult life, and his writings primarily focus on the challenges of modern masculinity. He lives on a small hobby farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, where he raises chickens, rabbits, and ducks while managing a small garden. He’s been a Sailor, a pastor, a television and radio personality, and a professional piercer. His eclectic background lends itself to an exploratory aspect of his writing. His work is an authentic reflection of the issues he puzzles over on a daily basis, and he spends a good deal of time outdoors to process them. A large herd of deer on the property seem to respond favorably to his ramblings.