A short story.
Inspired by Walden
A traveller stands just in a moment, a single moment. He is cloaked and stooped. Just before him lies a path. There is a stick at his side, worn and etched with scratches, blemishes, but then again, isn’t everything?
It’s a rather non-descript path, dirt and rocks and potholes which would have jostled even an army tank. The traveller isn’t quite sure where it leads, and doesn’t know its name, but as it has been his sole companion for many previous moments, he has fondly dubbed it “The Way Forward”.
That is odd, he thinks; for if this path before him is ‘the way forward’, and it is merely a continuation of the path he has heretofore travelled, then isn’t the path behind him also “the way forward”?
He’d rather not think about it, as those are the kind of thoughts that give him a headache. He’d like to just continue the way he was going, for not long ago a car had passed him, rattling over the potholes, and had continued right on. (Bit rude, he’d thought to himself, not to stop and help an old man.) But it had continued on, and really, who could blame it?
At least it isn’t here, in this same moment, deliberating furiously, like he himself is.
The man glances over his shoulder. There lies the other direction, The Path Backward.
Or… is it Forward?
Which direction should he travel, really?
Before moving even a toe, he decides, headaches be damned, that he would think about this. Perhaps it was time to have a midlife crisis, right here, on this path, neither Forward nor Backward, but just here, in this moment. He plops down.
“So,” He speaks aloud. He wants to assert the facts. “Were I to turn around this instant and travel on the path leading back the way I came, I would know what I would find.”
He mulls this over for a solid minute, chewing on the gummy bits where he is missing some teeth.
“Teeth,” he suggests with a tilt of his head. “I would probably find my missing teeth, if I travelled back far enough.”
He nods, perhaps slightly amused at the thought, perhaps taking a moment to mourn the loss.
“I’m not the same person I was,” He continues. “and I certainly learned a thing or two.”
He glances at the Path Backward. They say the mind has forgotten the things it tries the most to remember, for it always recreates them in a slightly different way.
(But then again, who is this mysterious and omniscient ‘They’?)
The fact is, and this rather disturbs him, he would not see the same things if he went back the way he came. He wouldn’t be going the way he had been, towards the unknown, but neither would he be stagnant.
But that’s just it, isn’t it? Neither path is truly known.
If the Path Forward is really the Path Brand New, then the Path Backward is simply the Path Brand New with a Curious Sense of Deja Vu.
This moment, this is the only moment he really knows. This is the only time with no surprises.
“Well,” He declares, to his feet, as he stands, with a sigh. “They always say that history is best not repeated.”
(Yet another victim, I might add, fallen to decision-making based on aphorisms and idioms which are far too general to be applied to anything effectively.)
And with that, he hefts his walking stick, lifts his toe, and takes the very first step.
And he will find, in that new moment, that so many things will already have changed.