Last summer I was running with a friend of mine. We decided to go on a trail run up in the mountains. We'd never run this particular trail but the main part of it was pretty clear and laid out for us. We got about a half a mile in when we encountered a huge hill. The trail forked, as it always seems to do at times like these. One trail went straight up the hill, one led to switch backs that eventually led to the top of the hill at a more modest incline, and the third went gently around the hill. Well of course, being young and restless, we chose the first trail. Unfortunately, what we thought was the straightest and shortest way up the hill turned out to be the most slippery, jagged and overgrown way we could have taken. Well, we got about half way up when we realized we really couldn't get any closer to the top of the hill. We spent the next half an hour trying to find the other less treacherous trail. Eventually we found it. We ran up the rest of the way. We were disappointed again, however, because as it turns out the top of that hill just dropped off. It was about a 30 foot shot to the bottom. So we turned around and headed back down to try the third trail. It was broad and it didn't just go around the hill, it looped and dropped up and down like a wave until eventually we were at the bottom of that cliff looking up at where we had been just a half an hour previously. We didn't just see the cliff though, we looked past it and saw the clouds and the birds. I don't know if you've ever seen the sky when it changes color. Like a hot poker or an oil lamp. That red spreads out like heat waves or river water. That is what we saw looking up. After that we ran back to the car and drove home.
Sometimes I try to take the shortcuts. The all or nothing, two-hundred-miles-an-hour-or-nothing road. The road that takes all of my strength to get up half way before I realize that way is hedged up with unforeseen setbacks and thorny bushes. Sometimes I will push through all of that and either stop short at the hidden cliff before I fall or accidentally slip off the edge or willingly dive to the bottom just because I have no strength left to carry myself back down for a second shot at it or because I just don't want to try again. Sometimes I take the steep trail, turn back when I hit the thorns and then turn back to take the second trail, then either turn back and head for the third trail when I reach the top or I will sit and dangle my feet over that cliff for a little while longer. Rarely, I will fight all the way up the hill then descend, a rock climber, down the cliff and manage to hit the bottom safely. I've only done that once or twice. And sometimes I am okay with taking that sloping, wave like trail. It's longer than the others, and it takes the same strength but at a different rate. Some may say that only the cowardly take the safer road. Some say that it is the mountains we climb the hard way that teach us something. Yes. The most difficult times have the potential to teach us the most. But sometimes it is nice to take that third path and have the chance to look up and see more than just the drop off at the top. Sometimes it is nice to see the sky burn and the birds sizzle on it's edge. Living life on the edge is fun. But living life looking up opens up a world light and flight and significance.
I just know that I've tried the hard way for some things, I've tried the second trail for a lot of things, I've almost fallen off the cliff when I've stepped on a few loose rocks and occasionally launched myself headlong to the bottom of the cliff. I've even tried to help pull others up who have lost their footing. Who hasn't? But I'm learning to not only take the long way every now and again but that the long way teaches me just as much as the other two ways. Just because the third trail has a lower mortality rate doesn't mean it's the boring way to go or the cowardly road to take. It's just a different road. Even then, the third trail isn't always there to travel on. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom to look up and see the sky. You know, I still like to scratch myself up a little just to look out from the top of the cliff from time to time. Sometimes you'll see storm clouds and have to walk through the rain before those clouds can pass. Sometimes you'll see a friend nearby. Sometimes you'll see the tree in the middle of the trail before you run into it. You might even see the end of the rainbow.
I guess life isn't so much about how hard or easy the road is you take to get through problems, find solutions or get over things, just about looking beyond where your feet are at the moment and looking up to see the places they are taking you. So let go and dare to look up. Trust me, it's better than looking down at your worn out shoes for the rest of your life.