Story of two travellers

Friday, 27 March 1998

Allow me to tell you a story of two travellers. One guy arrives at a crossroads. He looks in every direction, walks to the carts placed at the entrance to each path, picks up a copy of all the brochures and thoroughly reads through all of them. After an hour or so he sits down on a rock by the side of the road and wonders out loud: “Which one should I take?” As he sits there, silently pondering, time goes by

The seasons eventually come and go, and still this guy sits on his rock at the crossroads. And he ponders. Every now and then he takes a notebook from his back pocket and scribbles a few notes. Then he thinks some more. From time to time he rises to walk in circles for hours on end, occasionally stopping to jot down a few ideas, after which he sits down again.

From this position, he sees many other people arrive and depart. Sometimes he sees someone turn into a road, then a few months later he sees that same person again, stumbling out with a few bruises, a wound or two, and maybe a shirt or a jacket with a tear or a sleeve missing. This person may hang around for a while, catch his breath, and then he’ll start walking in another direction. The guy on the rock would shake his head, and he’ll know he’s doing the right thing – to think long and hard before taking action. After all, he doesn’t want to end up like that guy, he always tells himself. Then, after a while he will start circling the rock again, looking in this direction then that, writing down a few thoughts, and again sitting down on his rock, his face buried in his hands.

One bright autumn day another man appears on the horizon. The moment he reaches the crossroads, he goes down on his haunches. He sniffs the air for a moment, casts his eyes in a westerly direction, then north, then east. Then he gets up, slings his bag over his shoulder and starts walking.

The man on the rock observes this spectacle. He mutters to himself, and shakes his head. “How can this man just make a decision like that? I’ve been sitting here for years pondering what path I should take! After how many preliminary conclusions, after so many stories people have told me about the different paths, I still can’t decide which one is the best!”

Annoyed, the guy jumps down from his rock and yells after the man. The man, already some distance along, stops and looks behind him. The rock sitter picks up the pace.

“Wait a second … I was watching you from that rock,” he puffs when he catches up with the man. “I saw you arrive, and I saw how you sniffed the air, and then you just started walking. I’ve been sitting here for years. I know everything there is to know about all the paths. I’ve seen many people come and go, and still I can’t say for sure which is the one I should take. Most people pause for at least a day or two before they choose a path. But you? You sniff the air and just start walking! How can you be so sure?”

The guy looks at the rock sitter, sighs, and then says: “You’ve been sitting on that rock for years. You’ve considered all the options over and over again, and you’ve probably filled dozens and dozens of notebooks. But what do you have from all the years of sitting and thinking? A rock, and it’s not even your own!

“I, like you, know there are obstacles in the path I’ve chosen. Good days await me … and there will probably also be less pleasant days, circumstances that would cause me to question whether or not I did, in fact, choose the right path. Every path has these elements of uncertainty.

“The idea,” the guy continues, “is not to choose the path with the least number of obstacles. The idea is to commit to a path regardless of the obstacles, whatever the risks, regardless of good weather or foul. To commit yourself to a path until you have reached its end.

“If you commit yourself to a path, you’ll be accepted by your fellow travellers. That will increase a sense that you belong on that particular road, at that particular time.

“Every time I reach a crossroads, I see people like you, people who’ve been sitting on rocks for years on end arguing with themselves over which path to take. There is no absolute right path! What there is, is commitment. And that can make any path the right one for you.”

The rock sitter lowers his head and stares at the dirt and gravel around his feet. By the time he looks up again, the other man is already over the first hill.

* * *

A few days later a tired and weary traveller arrives at the crossroads. He notices a rock a few metres from a large oak tree. In the light of the late afternoon sun, his eye catches an inscription: The right path for you – is the path to which you are committed. And if you are committed to a path, it is the right path for you.