Blazing trails


Mark Twain school 2 Mark Twain school When I attended Mark Twain Elementary School in St. Joseph, Mo., it was a relatively new building. I remember a vast expanse of grass that lined either side of a wide sidewalk that ran from the street to the front door. I also recall that one of the strict rules we were directed to follow there was to “Stay on the sidewalk!” All of that lush green in the spring and fall when we were in classes and in summer when we were offered opportunities for activities on the playground out back was apparently meant only to be mown and then admired from a distance. It was beautiful – but also inviting. Like Sirens, it called to me. I never gave in, but I really dreamed about it.

The last time I drove past the institution, I do seem to recall that a bit of refurbishment had taken place with a broad circular driveway wending its way from the street on the right side of the building, up to the front door and then back to the street on the left side of the building. Yes, there’s still a lot of grass but it didn’t seem to be as well manicured as I remembered as a kid.

Always walking on the sidewalks and never taking shortcuts across green space was just part and parcel of respecting not only public property but private property. Even in my huge high school and its vast parcel of surrounding land, we were instructed to always use the sidewalks. A friend and I wandered out during a late afternoon free period and sat on the grass overlooking the tennis courts and the football field. We were seniors by that time and just kind of dreaming of what the future might hold. He was a boy, but our relationship was strictly platonic. We just enjoyed laughing together. It seems that we had no more than sat down on that warm, sunny spring afternoon than the Dean of Girls had suddenly sneaked up behind us (she did a really good job of that inside the school too) and told us to get up and go inside. “It doesn’t look right,” I remember her saying. “People will get the wrong idea.” So in this case, our plodding across the grass didn’t have anything to do with the grass itself, but only with the appearance cast by a boy and a girl sitting on it together.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve usually toed the mark when it comes to rules. I try mightily to obey the speed limit, not because I want to but because to exceed it somehow makes me better than the next guy on the road. To exceed the speed limit says to everyone else, “I’m a better driver than you are so I don’t have to obey the rules.” But I also think it says something about character and integrity. Most rules and laws are there for a reason and before we head off on our own feeling that the rules don’t apply to us, we should probably consider the effect that our breaking of the rule of law will have on other people. I recall riding once with a man who was speeding down the Interstate at 20 mph over the speed limit. I just casually mentioned my belief that people who exceed the speed limit could be putting others in danger. “I agree, Gretchen,” he said, oblivious to my concerns. I replied, “Then why do you have a fuzzbuster on your dashboard?” He went silent and slowed down.

There are, however, some rules that are made to be broken – advisedly.

I think I first started to realize that when I headed off to college and discovered an abundance of sidewalks weaving through the campus greens. I remembered how I was cautioned as a child to always use the sidewalks. Then I would see newly worn paths and more deeply worn paths that cut from sidewalk to sidewalk, blazing new and shorter trails from one point of the campus to another. For a long time I tried to behave myself and stay on the sidewalk, but when I was running late, I yearned to jump onto those trails myself as I sought a shortcut to my destination. When it was muddy, the decision to stay on the sidewalk was an easy one. Not so in the sun and warmth or even the sun and snow.

Then I noticed an evolution of sorts in grounds maintenance. After seasons and years of one path or another clearly being worn deeper by traversing students to the point that the grass would probably never recover, sidewalks were installed over those paths. The students, perhaps without intention, had made it clear to the powers-that-be that this place or that place needed some kind of permanent walkway. While signs may have declared “Stay off the Grass,” there were locations where the students determined that grass needed to be replaced with downtrodden soil. Sometime later the administration decided it would be swapped with concrete or asphalt.

I still believe that private property should be honored by crossing it only with the permission of the owners. Where the public holds sway, however, there is always room for discussion and even a breaking of the rules to make public space accessible, useable, and expedient.

I saw this on the internet: “Hope is like a country road; there was never a road, but when people walk on it, the road comes into existence.”

road less traveledIt’s important to be able to think outside the box, to be able to blaze new trails. Often and maybe after many years, enough others may have the same idea or capitalize on our own ideas and follow suit, wearing the pathway deeper and wider and turning it into a road. Sometimes absolutely no one will follow our path. We may be very alone as we explore new territory for our lives, new ways to follow the hope that lies within us.

It can be important to break the rules. Changing times and advancement in thought and scholarship require us to step out beyond the rigid expectations of our culture. We have to test for ourselves whether the hope we harbor can see fruition through actions that we take as leaders or as followers.

Thinking outside the box is fundamental to spiritual, intellectual, political, and physical growth. Moving ahead on those thoughts is important too – as long as we always keep the needs of humanity first.

Maybe trailblazing isn’t just for pioneers, scientists, and astronauts. I always hold on to the hope of not only a better tomorrow, but a better today. And sometimes I’m quite happy to just enjoy life the way it is.



“33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14

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2 comments for “Blazing trails

  1. Terry
    June 29, 2016 at 11:06 am

    This posting is a fine example of how the writing that is not planned far in advance carries the deepest message.

  2. Julie Overman
    June 29, 2016 at 11:15 am

    When to stay on the path, and when to venture off. I like your reference of public and private places. Where our decisions impact others, we need to be considerate. But it can be even more important to consider for ourselves whether it’s time for self discipline or updating beliefs and habits. Tradition or convenience? I’m aware that sometimes campuses wait to put in sidewalks until the kids have trod paths of convenience and frequency, and then give them a solid path to walk where they have the most need. I think that faith can support our paths of hope. What a discipline. Thank you, Gretchen.

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