The “Life is a journey” cliché has been done to death — but it’s there and I’m lazy, so what the hell! People say life is a journey, and it is — but it’s not a straight-and-narrow, or a super highway or even a twisty backroad to heaven. It’s a wilderness, and we poor mortals are forced to navigate it the best way we know how. That’s why our more than benevolent society gives us signposts. These are big, simple, well-lit markers that we can clearly see as we’re speeding along at 200 KPH, going – uh – wherever it is we’re all going.
When we’re babies, the first signpost we get is “NO!” This keeps us away from dangerous stuff, disgusting stuff and stuff we really shouldn’t put in our mouth. Easy! But it doesn’t take us long to discover that some “no’s” are more important than others. For example, when we ignore, “No, don’t pull kitty’s tail!” we end up with lacerations. However, “No, don’t throw your food on the floor.” Is nothing serious. (After all, cleanup is not our problem.)
From there, the signposts get a little trickier. Sure “Play nice!” is relatively easy, but “Share!” comes with a double-edged sword. There isn’t a person on this planet who hasn’t run into the “share” conundrum. Meanwhile, this is when we realize that — even though the world is full of signposts — some people don’t feel any obligation to observe them. It’s a hard lesson when we’ve “shared” our cupcake with Sally, but Sally has decided to keep her cookies to herself.
Then the signposts start coming faster, and they’re a lot more complicated. We learn there are certain words that are off limits, even though they’re surprisingly fun to say and actually quite common during times of parental stress. We also learn “Don’t lie!” This is a biggie. However, it comes with a number of caveats that aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye. For example, Uncle Jake’s Special Spaghetti Sauce might honestly taste like dirt, but if you say so there will be consequences. Here’s where we find out that even though the path is always clearly marked, on occasion, life is a lot easier if we simply look the other way.
Teenage years are full of signposts that are basically contradictory. “You’re young: have fun!” is diametrically opposed to “You need to study, or you’ll end up a crack whore like your cousin Jerry.” Plus, we’re starting to get the feeling that some signposts are deliberately misleading. Some, like “Algebra is important!” are there to keep us on the path whether we like it or not, and others, like “YOLO,” are trying to lure you into the weeds. Then there’s the uber dangerous “Ahh, come on! It’ll be fun!” which can go either way. Follow this one too far and you could end up either hosting multi-level marketing seminars in your living room or sittin’ in an alley somewhere, smokin’ crack with your cousin Jerry. It can happen! Luckily, most of us manage to get through the 12-to-20 labyrinth and come out the other side as Adults. And here’s where things settle down a bit.
As adults, we all see life’s signposts, and we all kinda know which direction we’re going. Plus, even though we sometimes don’t admit it, we all know where the edge of the path is. Mainly because, at some point in our lives, we’ve screwed up and found ourselves stumbling around in the weeds. It’s not very pleasant. That’s why, even though “Love thy neighbour” doesn’t apply to Fang, the 24/7 Death Metal music freak down the street, we don’t go down there and beat him over the head with his sub-woofer. That’s off the path, over the hill and down the other side. And we know if we go out there, there’s always a chance we won’t find our way back. So, from time to time, we might covet our neighbour’s wife and her ass, and maybe even her riding lawnmower but we don’t do anything about it. We just glance up at the signpost, look at the snarl of brambles and thorns and weeds beyond it, and roll over and go back to sleep.