It was on a flight to Washington, DC that I stopped pondering the law of physics that my ass and the airplane seat were defying long enough to actually process a few words from the obligatory pre-flight safety spiel from the flight attendant.

“Too much ass, not enough airplane.”  I said to the poor bastard sitting in the seat next to mine. I laughed.  He didn’t.  And it’s ok, I’m used to being the only one who thinks I am funny.  As we tried to untangle our seatbelts and keep our respective behinds from touching while the lady in the front of the plane waved her arms helpfully, I heard the familiar phrase: “The nearest exit may be behind you.”

Now. The last drop of brackish chicken soup has already been wrung from “secure your own mask before assisting others”, and I don’t want to give the airline industry credit for too much wisdom, but on that particular day, the exit warning resonated with me. Even though I knew that flight attendant meant “Look around, stupid sheep passengers, you might be able to jump off the sinking aircraft from THATTAWAY,” I was hearing something else: “You just might find it’s too late to go back.”

Back to what, I’m not sure.

I’ve always seemed to spend so much time walking backwards. Looking back with angst at the road I should have taken/abandoned, the college I should have applied to/transferred out of, the job I should have accepted/quit, the relationship I should have held on to/ran from like it was on fire. The risk I should have taken. The life I should have lived.

And it’s not just me.  I am surrounded by people who are constantly trying to go back and see down the other tine of the fork in the road, not understanding that they are seeking a moment in time that no longer exists.  The road changes forever the second you choose.

Why do we do this to ourselves? And why do other people seem to have no trouble accepting their choices, embracing instead the platitude that all things happen for a reason? Is it just that they are happier people? More mature? And is it ok to shoot them?

These people seem to have an unerring sense of which choice is life-altering – while others of us hurl ourselves across that deceptive line between “can” and “should” only to look back and see that sometimes it is not a line at all. It’s an abyss.

I think that on some level I have always believed that someday it would all make sense. All the questionable judgment, selfish or selfless choices, sacrifices, heartbreak, loss…the brief, blinding happiness, untarnished love, and unexpected forgiveness…it would culminate in a moment of finally understanding the road taken. This is why I am here! And then the road not taken wouldn’t matter. Now, I think that the most we can hope for is acquiescence – that in our hurry to get off the plane, we missed an exit or two. Maybe that’s maturity.

And I think it was Jack Nicholson who said “People who speak in metaphors should shampoo my crotch.” So that’s it for now.

For now, I’ll just be glad I didn’t choose to wax philosophic during the “you can manually inflate the life vest by blowing into the tubes on either side” portion. That would have led me somewhere else entirely.

12 thoughts on “The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You

  1. I admit it, I’m one of those that look backwards and wonder about the various choices I’ve made/not made. I would certainly go back in time and do things differently if I had a chance – but magical thinking will never make it so. I’m trying to be brave enough to continue hiking forward on the road I’m traveling – hoping that the next corner I turn or the next fork I take will not send me off a cliff. Maybe I’ll end up somewhere great – you never know

  2. I laughed. He didn’t. And it’s ok, I’m used to being the only one who thinks I am funny.

    Still laughing at that one! I’m the same way.

    For me, I think I finally realized that the each tine of the fork said WHAT IF? I choose, I walk and I’m just glad when I can stay out of bat country!

    Great one!

  3. I loved how this post originated from a airline flight to a philosophical metaphor for life. I find myself tripping back to my past happy moments. I smile and remember the feeling and quickly carry on. I’m trying to get unstuck from unpacking my thoughts and living there. Great analogy and wisdoms, thank you for sharing. 😊

      1. Oh yes I was raised in that school of hard knocks as well. I was that kid who had to try everyone just once. I soon learned consequences and started making better choices. You’re welcome it was a great read. 😃

  4. The road changes forever the second you choose. <—-THIS.RIGHT.HERE. Thank you for putting it into a sentence that I can understand. Screw looking back unless it is to laugh at a funny memory. Hi^5

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