Markers on the Path


I’ve always loved the rock cairns people spend so much time and energy sourcing and building along paths, river fronts and lakes. To me, they stand as silent reminders of the creator. I was here. I mattered for more than the moment I was here. Even if not permanent, there is meaning in this organization and effort as I’ve left it. That meaning might be as ‘shallow’ as the joy of play, like it was when we built cairns along the Snake River in Idaho on a rafting trip with a group of friends. Or it might be as ‘deep’ as the one I built on a bluff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in solemn reflection over a lost brother.

I saw one this past week under a bridge in Connecticut. The bridge spanned a tidal river, so during high tide the cairn sat out in the freezing water, untouchable, just the last few rocks breaking the surface. It got me to thinking about the markers we all leave on the path. If life is a trail, the traditional trail markers are pretty well laid out for you.  And I don’t mean that in a good way. Not everyone passes every marker – we all don’t graduate high school, go to college, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, save for their college, develop acute liver failure and then die – but there’s a strong shot many of us have passed a few of those signs or are on the straight and narrow to do so soon.

But even on that well trodden path, we all have a chance to stop and build a cairn of our own. Something that is a bit off the path, marks a vista most don’t get to see, splits off for a bit, or plots a new shortcut (even if that shortcut is through a mosquito infested bog). It could be an adventure experience (like the World Marathon Challenge), a decision to pursue a lifelong passion instead of a traditional career, starting your own company, living abroad, a unique travel experience, joining a band when you’re 60 (actually…don’t do that), writing a book, ….. the list is endless. The key is to pause a minute and either recognize in that moment you’re building your cairn (I guess that’s being present in the moment….a skill I lack), or reflect generally on the markers you’ve left along the path that are uniquely you. If you haven’t built one in a while, it’s time to find a big flat rock for the base.

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