When I lived in Colorado, and here in Costa Rica, a drive into the mountains provides an opportunity to keep your wits about you and your focus clear because a switchback is just up ahead. A switchback changes the direction of things rather dramatically. In comparison, a curve is a bend in the road, a chance to slow down. It’s a friendly way to change gears and just enjoy the ride.
A switchback though is the proverbial hairpin turn and demands you pay attention as you go right, then left, then right as sharply as you possibly can and then left again as abruptly as somebody sounding the fire alarm when you were just about to eat a bite of taramisu. It’s fast and you have to make the changes immediately, no waiting for just another sip of coffee.
Life can change abruptly too. It brings more than a gentle learning curve where you can make adjustments to your style or your thought processes. Every so often, there’s a switchback, a sharp turn that comes out of nowhere and demands to be followed. The best thing to do is let it take you where it wants to because ultimately, you’ll find the path straightening out again and your direction more sure.
William Matthews said, “The difficulties, hardships, and trials of life, the obstacles one encounters on the road to fortune, are positive blessings. They knit the muscles more firmly, and teach self-reliance. Peril is the element in which power is developed.”
Switchbacks force you to keep your eyes on the road and keep your muscles tense. You develop an instant respect for them because they have the way so well planned and, apart from turning around, you’re left at the mercy of what they most hope to teach you. Life does that to us too. It goes along nicely one way and just as you develop a little bit of comfort and confidence with it, bam…it takes you another way altogether. One day you’re married, the next day you’re facing divorce court. One day you’re healthy, the next day you’re getting more tests than a graduate student. One day you’re working hard, the next day no one needs what you do. Switchbacks!
Can we see difficulties, hardships, and trials as positive blessings as Matthews suggests? Can we say it’s okay if I’m going this way today and somewhere else tomorrow because I’m alive and I’m flexible and I’m willing to go wherever the path leads?
Personally, I know it doesn’t always feel okay. I know there are times when I question the learning curves, because after all, there must be someone else who needs a lesson. Yet, those curves often pave the way for me to face the switchbacks. They build me up to take on the more abrupt changes life can bring. The other thing I know is that eventually, even when it seems unlikely, the road smooths out again. The path ahead delivers a purpose and the outcome finally seems worth the education it took to get there. In that way they do produce positive blessings.
Life is always going to throw us a curve. It’s going to surprise us with good things and not so good things up ahead and the best thing we can do is prepare for the trip. We can keep our spiritual window washer fluid handy, the kind that pours down on us through prayer so we see clearly. We can know that the One we follow has gone confidently in the direction before us and will meet us up ahead. We can just relax into it, sing a little song, and know that when we get there, the coffee pot will be on.
As Gandhi said, “There’s more to life than increasing its speed. Perhaps those curves and switchbacks are meant to slow us up enough to appreciate it when we get to pull over. I’ll look for you up ahead.