Wrong Way

From the ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’ category. Last week as I took my Grands home, the four-year-old piped up from the backseat, “Nana. That sign says wrong way.” I congratulated him on his reading, but that wasn’t what he wanted. “But Nana. Why are we going the wrong way?”

I explained those big red signs were for drivers crossing the median so they would turn the correct way, and assured him we were okay. By this time we were well beyond the signs.  “But Nana! The sign said wrong way.” I heard the quiver in his little voice and a hint of panic. He saw what he saw and was so focused on that he couldn’t hear what I was telling him.

I assured him a second time that we were fine and directed his attention to the other cars all going in our same direction. I’m not sure he was entirely convinced but he didn’t question again.

I’ve thought about his innocent exchange since then, how many times I’ve told others, the signs say wrong way. I’m sure there was a quiver in my voice and more than a hint of caution as I advised my children and friends on what to do because I didn’t want them to get hurt or make a big mistake. Only to be shown later I was focused on one thing, unable or unwilling to see a fuller picture.

I’ve been on the other side of that conversation too. I can remember more than once giving my parents grief for not wanting to hear the message when they obviously knew more than I did.

Now days it’s not my parents but mostly editors and fellow writers in my critique groups that point the way. Whether the advice comes from my own inner voice, or some outer voice, it’s not always enjoyable to hear and my ego can get in the way of listening.

While often times those voices of caution are correct, sometimes they aren’t.

Like with my Grand, I have to explain a fuller picture. With him it was easy to simply show him the traffic pattern and continue on our merry way. Other times it’s frustrating and irritating when I do know what I’m talking about and someone refuses to see or listen. (I once showed my novel-in-progress to another author and by the time she’d read just the first 30 pages she’d changed the characters, added a storyline of child sex abuse I had no interest in writing, and took the story down a completely different path than I’d already written in the remaining 200 pages.) I’ve had to grow a thick skin, and learn to defend myself.

Today we remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was often warned he was going the wrong way. Though I hear the quiver and urgency in his voice delivering I Have a Dream, I can’t begin to know or understand the frustration, anger and fear he surely must have felt with each closed door and roadblock.

Sr. Joan Chittister and Fr. Richard Rohr write in Prophets Then, Prophets Now: “Prophets always talk about the untalkable and open a huge new area of ‘talkability.’ For those willing to go there, it helps us see what we didn’t know how to see until they helped us see it. That’s how we begin to recognize a prophet-there is a widening of seeing, this deepening of a truth that was always there. . . . While everybody else is saying the emperor is beautifully clothed, they are willing to say, ‘No, the emperor is naked.’”

Dr. King was willing to go there. He had the fuller vision of seeing what others refused to see. It was the opening of a deepening truth that continues to be exposed. This year marks 60 years since his famous speech. Sixty years. I’m struggling with how to end this post. The realization it’s been sixty years stops me. So much has gone right since then, but how can it be there’s still so much that has gone wrong?

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