For months I’ve been acutely aware of the construction of a second trail at the park where I walk regularly. I can’t overstate my curiosity, excitement, and impatience to explore this new path as week after week went by and still the chain link fence tasked with keeping us onlookers out remained. As the fence was located close to the trailhead, what went on beyond that point was hidden from view. During my (almost) daily walks on the original trail, I could see and hear signs of progress – the hauling of building materials, the operation of heavy equipment, and the occasional faint laughter or talking among the construction crew. (Who had come to Georgia from Florida, according to the license plates on their parked vehicles.) As much as I enjoy the current trail which over time has become as comfortable as a favorite, much worn sweatshirt, the allure of the new path beckoned to me. Hidden behind trees, everything about the path was mysterious. And yet, the fence remained. Day after day, week after week, month after month. Would it ever be ready?
And then, one recent Saturday morning, a gap in the fence suddenly appeared. Ahead of me, I noticed a couple had slipped through the opening and had ventured into the previously off-limits area. So I did too. And then it was happening…I was entering the woods, off on a new adventure. I was as excited as a kid going on an airplane for the very first time. My breathing and heart rate elevated slightly, my eyes dilated (at least I imagined that they did), and I spoke in an awed, conspiratorial tone to my fellow travelers. It was exhilarating.
But it wasn’t until two days later, early the following Monday morning, that I witnessed something that eventually spurred my wanting to write this entry. After all the preceding months during which time winter had become spring and now summer, I happened to be at the park at just the right time to catch a workman in the act of removing the chain link fence. I could have so easily missed this milestone…the visual clue that the project was now complete and open to the public.
I found myself feeling surprisingly grateful. Because change, especially the internal kind, isn’t usually like that. Rarely is there a concrete moment in time when we can say to ourselves, “Ah hah! I am different now; I’m not the same person I was three months or three years ago. My work here is done!” Instead, real change typically happens imperceptibly and non linearly. It happens in the background, like the remote sound of heavy equipment and workmen laughing and talking faintly in the distance. Occasionally, we do get a peek – our vision temporarily gets sharper and clearer and, if we’re mindful and a little lucky, we notice that we just handled a challenging situation better than in the past or chose a behavior that was truly in our long-term best interest where in the past we may not have. Work on ourselves doesn’t come with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Because of that, we rarely, if ever, get to see the fence come down. No wonder it felt so satisfying.