“All is change. You yourself are continuously changing and being destroyed bit by bit. So is the whole universe.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The towering wall of mist nips at my heels, reminding me I am out of time. As moments pass by, the deep grey inches ever closer, antagonizing my chaotic soul. My sea-blue eyes cast their gaze out into the distance, searching for a way out. I find myself standing on the precipice of a massive ridgeline. Rolling hills are laid out in front of me, with dark groups of forest in the distance. The sky is overcast, full of greyness, and blocking out the hopeful sun. Everything is happening too fast, and my mind is racing. At my feet lay five separate paths, all dynamically unique, with varying levels of obstacles, challenges, and eventual rewards. This is my future. This decision will shape the rest of my life, as I can never alter my decision. Once I reach the end of the path I choose, I will look back and be happy with the decision I made. Right? This is it. The mist closes in as my time runs down.
One path leads over the hills and into windswept meadows that seem to last forever. The road is wide and heavily used; the ground pounded down by the feet of thousands of other travelers before.
Another path shoots down into a rocky gully and follows a rapidly moving stream. Large stones mark the edges of the route and there is a rope laid next to it so one can hold on to it while making the trek down.
The next path heads towards a massive canyon system, with rocky steps making switchbacks back and forth, all the way down to the bottom of the vast chasm. A rugged wooden sign lays at the beginning of the path with a few words etched into it, “Some have tried, many have died. Paradise lies before you.”
I can barely see the fourth route, making its way directly towards the immense and sinister forest and disappearing as quickly as it appears. The only footprints to be seen have been imprinted by a deer or two. No other signs of life or death are announcing the path’s intentions. The sing-song melody of chirps can be heard as the birds challenge each other in beautiful verse.
The final thoroughfare curves back and forth along the slopes until it meets a great body of water, with the wind making the waves choppy and quite uninviting. An ancient wooden dock jets out into the water and attached to it is a tiny rowboat, with oars already waiting inside.
These are my options, and the decision must be made soon as the mist pushes me closer to the edge. At the point where all paths begin, a colossal pyre stands before me. The deep blue flame licks at the sky as to tear apart the grey clouds that ensnare my thoughts. A grand boulder sits slightly in front of the monumental flame, one side stripped of its curves and made flat, with lines and twists carved into it, “Put forth your most diligent effort into the moment, as you know not what your future holds. Find what makes your soul sing and follow that to the end of eternity.” -Unknown.
That first step sends shock waves up through my feet, up to my hips, and all the way up to my timid heart. The overgrown path allows me passage and the heavy grass parts way for my weary soul. As the shadows of the great trees paint their dark marks upon me, the only thought that comes to mind is this, “Well if the birds are joyous enough to bestow their melody on this dauntingly gorgeous forest, maybe I can find happiness here too”.
Final Thoughts: Many things inspire and challenge us, whether it’s peer/generational pressure, survival, or self-interest… We can feel that time is not always on our side, especially when we are in a bind. Take a moment to trust your gut feeling, natural intelligence, and wise counsel from those you hold in high regard. Life may seem complicated, but even amidst mistakes, we can find solutions. -JR
Jacob Rego is a DODReads Fellow, specializing in fictional writing and leadership interviews. He is also an Active Duty Navy Corpsman, currently attached to an Infantry Regiment in Camp Lejeune, NC. He has been in the military for approximately five years, serving previously at Naval Branch Health Clinic Bangor, WA. His goal after separating from the Navy is to finish his education, focusing on Emergency Management and Disaster Relief.