Here’s the thing about blind spots. We don’t know we have them. We think we’re perpetually broke because because we have bad luck, or that we can’t find love because there are no good men, when the truth is we need an actual plan — preferably a flexible one with built in room to maneuver and respond to the unexpected opportunities and curve balls that life throws our way — or simply a new point of view. Our biggest blind spot of all may be that we’re looking at our life through the wrong lens. We mistake an essential part of our narrative for a colossal mistake that will forever up-end our life. We forget that bumps in the road are part of any good journey, and that knowing how to navigate a bumpy road is the only skill you really need to lead a juicy life. We think that the big mistakes ruin us and the little mistakes don’t matter, when really the reverse is true. The big mistakes build character — and, if we are willing to be an active protagonist in the story of our own life, they build the narrative of a really good life. Check out any great movie and you’ll see what I mean. In The King’s Speech, Bertie finds his voice because of not in spite of his adversities. He fights his way through his stutter, kicking and screaming as often as not, to the life of import that awaited him on the other side. Creasy in Man On Fire finds something worth living for before he dies because he takes the job he can do in his broken down, heavy drinking state and gives himself over, kicking and screaming, to the persistent love of a child. In each instance, the big flaw or the big mistake ends up being the gateway to the transcendent possibility that’s hidden inside of every life — and the devil at the crossroads ends up being the small peccadilloes of mind that keep us from seeing what a thing is really for.
In folk magic and mythology, crossroads represent a location between the worlds and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted, and mystical events can occur. Symbolically, it’s a place where two realms touch. It represents liminality, a place that’s betwixt and between, that’s neither here nor there. In the Yoruba religion, the Orisha Eshu, the protector of travelers and the deity of fortune and misfortune, will meet you at the crossroads. In Haitian Voodoo, Papa Legba will stand at the spiritual and grant you permission to speak with the spirits. In our day to day lives, the guardian at the crossroads is anyone who helps us see our way past our blind spots into the heart of our actual life. In The King’s Speech, Lionel the speech therapist is Bertie’s Eshu. In Man On Fire, the little girl Pita plays the part.
We all need an Eshu. We can cobble one together in all the messages we receive through the many conversations and experiences that pepper our lives. But if we’re lucky, we have a good truth-telling friend who will tell us what they see and sense enough to hear them out. Not that our friend won’t be wildly wrong about our life at times, but sometimes he or she will be right — and even if they’re not, their opinions may jog something loose in our own minds, leading to answers we never would have found on our own.
A good truth-telling friend will be honest and direct. She’ll tell you when you need a better plan, when you need to stop planning and let life takes its course, and when you need to stop neurosis-ing and just deal. She’ll drag your stuttering butt to that speech therapist, or tell you to let that little girl, the one who’s going to change your life, be your friend. She’s your ally, and if you let her, she will help you find your way.
Of course truth-telling is hard to do. Often as not, our friends stop short of telling us the hard truths we most need to hear — because they fear our reaction, or have the inside scoop on just how hard-headed we are. So in the absence of a good honest and direct, truth-telling friend, I suggest you find a funny, insightful stranger to give you the talking to you need, like Tracy McMillan, the TV writer, author and Ready For Love matchmaker who’s made a cottage industry out of shining a bright light on our dark places. You may be familiar with Tracy’s HuffPost pieces, “Why You’re Not Married,” “Why You’re Still Not Married” and “Nine Signs You’re a Female Peter Pan, where she makes the witty case for why it is that you’re still not married, even though you want to be, or how to tell if you’re shying away from needful goals, like growing up. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here and get to reading! — even if you are married and you have grown up; they’re that hilariously and insightfully good. When you’re done, check out Tracy’ memoir, I Love You And I’m Leaving You Anyway, where you can read all about how she faced down seeming adversity to get to the dream life she’s living now. Adversity can bring us to our knees, but in Tracy’s case, it brought her to her feet. Your truth-telling friend would tell you to take a chapter from her narrative. Finally, check out Tracy’s appearance today on HuffPost Live with Nancy Redd, a show I narrowly missed appearing on, though the women who appeared “instead” were so spot-on perfect I can’t even kvetch.
What your honest, truth-telling friend will tell you, should you choose to accept this mission, is that the colossal mistakes you’ve made — or think you’ve made — can usually be sorted out. It’s the little mistakes of action or perception that get in the way. Say you turned down a lucrative legal career to become a writer and it hasn’t entirely worked out? So what? Say you got married three times and none of them stuck? So what? You’re a single mom with a half-assed career? So the hades what? These things can all be navigated if only you can avoid the small-time bad decisions that cause you to lose the narrative of your life, you know, the messy narrative where you face obstacles and make colossal mistakes and fight your way back from the “all is lost” “moment closest to death” that happens at the end of Act Two of any well-structured film and that propels the hero (that’s you!) into her third act, where she will wage the fight of her life and end up on changed for the better in the end. After navigating that obstacle course we call life, and facing down the demons within and without, the king will stutter no more, and the drunken mercenary will know love, and she will be humming along to “Non, je ne regrette rien” (or for you English speakers out there, “No, I regret nothing”). So embrace your colossal mistakes and find the narrative they’e trying to tell.
You’ll know you’ve lost the narrative if: you’re stuck in an old story and can’t get out. If you walked away from your legal career to be a writer or a stay at home mom, no you can’t slot back in. Don’t even try. Just get out of the rearview mirror and suss out what lies ahead — and for goodness sake, think outside the box. To do otherwise is a mini-major catastrophic mistake. Write a book! Consult! Or, if you really must practice law again, apply for one of those lawyer re-entry programs that might pave your way to an actual job. If your marriage failed, or your other marriage failed, and you’re still wallowing in that little turn of events, get out of the rearview mirror and get a grip. Learn something from it, and then? Move the heck on. Tracy did it, and look how she turned out! Who knows, if you get out of the rearview mirror, you stand a chance of marrying better-for-you next time, or writing a viral blog post that becomes a book, or using your hard-won knowledge to become a marriage and family therapist or a life coach.
The point is, just about anything can be navigated. Just ask Tracy, or your truth-telling, honest and direct best friend.
PHOTOGRAPHY via TracyMcMillan.com
PAULA PURYEAR is a Lawyer, Film & Television writer, HuffPoster and Founder of Revel In It Mag.