The purposeful path is nice, but the fringes will delight

By Ramnath Subramanian / Special to the Times

POSTED:   12/26/2013 12:00:00 AM MST


When a page turns, there is a new story, or a new chapter to an old story. The charm and challenge in life is to make the story, be it old or new, count for something.

My father used to tell me that before a man walks a mile he should ask himself what he expects to find on the road. This is important, for a journey of purpose will take that man five miles, not one. Purpose brings on discovery, which in turn makes the man “strong in will to strive, to seek, to find.” Thus is life lengthened and enriched.

As a page in the calendar gets ready to turn to bring us to a new year, I remember my father’s wisdom, for it has served me well on many occasions, and I resolve, where new journeys begin, to embrace it to the fullest.

The shortest distance between points A and B is a straight line as long as destination is our focus. What if we shift that focus to embrace the journey itself? Then does the curve and all the tributaries of pathways that define it take on significance and cast the straight path into penury.

When I was teaching, I started each morning by asking myself this question: “Where am I going today, and what do I expect to find on the road?” Odd as it may seem, I would get to school well ahead of the starting bell, close the classroom door behind me, and meditate on this question.

Can an encounter with Leonardo da Vinci in a poem lead us, courtesy of a detour, to a discussion of art, architecture and mathematics? The answer is “yes,” of course, because the Renaissance man could design a canal and delve into a mathematical problem just as easily as he could paint a fresco.

A poem itself is petaled in many directions, but with foresight and vision, we can turn it into a cathedral of magnificence or a machine of elegant complexity.

Can a day’s path be changed because a turtle appears on our doorstep with rain on its back, or an injured dove looks for succor from inside a tuft of tall grass in the yard? Most certainly, and just as surely as a child’s question can change the planned trajectory of a lesson towards new turf.

Peter Matthiessen went in search of the snow leopard in the Dolpo region of the Tibetan Plateau in the Himalayas. He did not find the snow leopard but he discovered diverse treasures along the way.

A man who travels with a purpose has a place to go to, but he is also willing to set his compass towards destinations that are not marked on the map.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” asked Andrea del Sarto in Browning’s poem by that name.

One can proceed cautiously between the here and now, where “all is silver-gray, placid and perfect,” to catch the light just so, at just such and such an angle, or run around the corner to a single delight perched in the mouth of serendipity, to change the climate of the place and the heart.

Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote that “there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it is going.” In other words, the very idea of travel is imbued with romance when we allow discovery to set new destinations.

As so often happens, a walk to the lotus pond becomes distracted by a girl wearing jasmine in her hair.

The great art of living is in knowing the many paths that intersect with the main road, and being prepared for all the ones that might connect by happenstance and surprise.

Ramnath Subramanian, a retired public-school teacher, writes for the El Paso Times on educational topics. Email address: