The day was going exactly according to plan when I embarked upon my afternoon errand journey.
Errand One: Take yard debris to the town drop-off location.
Errand Two: Stop at grocery store for milk and fresh bananas.
Errand Three: Get home in time to greet kids getting off the bus.
The first detour happened at the debris drop-off location. Every once and again the workers push the heavy limbs and assorted yard waste into a giant hole and set it ablaze. A normal drop-off only takes a moment: grab bags and brush and toss. That day I detoured and took a few minutes to stare at the glowing pit knowing full-well that I would be taking the fire smell with me in my hair and coat for the rest of the day.
When I walked into the grocery story I wasn’t too far behind my planned schedule. I grabbed the bananas quickly, but there is a reason that the grocery brains put the milk in the back of the store: a shopper has to walk past a lot of things that may not be on her list. Detour. My little basket had more than just bananas in it when I saw that the store was out of my preferred 1 percent milk. Two percent or skim? And, oh, we could use more yogurt.
Even with the detours I was still several minutes ahead of the bus. Why? I planned on detours that day. No one can know when, where or how they are going to impact a schedule or a person, but adding a little detour time means I don’t have to by-pass a chance for spontaneity because of a tight schedule.
On the route home I glanced at a house that I have programmed myself to look at each time I drive past. Early last fall the man who lives there wrote me a very nice letter. It was such a wonderful surprise to get a letter — a hold-in-my-hand, typed and signed letter — that I vowed then to stop and repay the surprise if I ever saw him outside.
I never have.
I have traveled that street almost every day and I never saw him.
Until that day.
I drove a literal detour through a parking lot near his house, parked in his driveway and rang his doorbell.
I was giddy to surprise him at the door, but thrilled to chat when his wife invited me inside. Although we didn’t talk about detours by name, we did talk about them: job losses that turn into new adventures, town plans that stumble but create unforeseen opportunities.
Life is full of detours and that was the best one that day. The deviation from my plotted course resulted in meeting a couple of sweet and smart people. Whose life doesn’t need more people like that?
Finally home, I mentally replayed the pleasant detours of my day while I turned on the television to check the weather report.
I didn’t see the weather.
I saw a horrifying detour. I saw a day that began full of joyful determination and proud accomplishment become one of sadness, terror and loss in Boston.
I saw for the first of many times the images that will be sharing collective memory space with other events in cities that are not our own, but touch us all in some way.
Life isn’t about following a straight, planned path. It’s about successfully zigzagging through the good and the bad detours. To expect the unexpected is a paradox, but being aware of the impact and learning from the detours while traveling through life? That is wise.