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Donna Barker

Handling the wrong turns of life

Sometimes life takes us on strange journeys.

A couple weeks ago, an elderly Kansas couple apparently got confused while driving on their eight-hour trip to Dwight, Ill. They didn’t exit when they should have, took a couple wrong turns and ended up a couple days later in northern Michigan, at a town called Milo. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but they finally stopped to ask for directions.

The Kansas couple had driven more than 400 miles past their destination. He was 92 years old, his wife was 81. Though the outcome could have been much different, with harm coming to the couple, they apparently came through their adventure just fine.

Of course, they should have called their loved ones on that first night when they didn’t make it to Dwight. Of course, they should have called their loved ones that next morning before getting back into their car. Of course, they should have gone to the nearest police station to get some help. But still, they made the journey without any accidents and apparently none the worse for wear, other than for probably receiving a good scolding or two from loved ones.

When I heard about the Kansas couple being found safe and apparently well, I was relieved and thankful they were OK. But then my thoughts turned to all the potential jokes at the couple’s expense, about the “not stopping for directions no matter how long this eight hour trip takes us” kind of jokes.

But actually there’s something I have to admire about the couple. Even though there was so much wrong about the trip, they reached a safe destination, even if it was a different one than originally planned.

Though I have never driven 400 miles out of my way, I have taken a wrong turn or two in my life.

Some of those wrong turns have been literal. I have messed up on the Interstate 80/Interstate 74 intersection just east of the Quad Cities and have traveled toward Peoria instead of Princeton. When attending college in the state of Ohio, I traveled way further into Chicago than I should have because I didn’t follow the Interstate 80 road signs correctly. I have gotten lost on the streets and interstates in Salt Lake City. Just a couple weeks ago, my colleague Goldie Currie and I took a “scenic route” through Peoria on the way home from an Illinois Press Association luncheon in Springfield.

But sometimes a wrong turn or two isn’t all that bad. I’ve seen country roads and barns and city streets and houses and people that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I’ve become a more understanding driver, realizing other drivers may be just as turned around as me.

But more importantly, my wrong turns have taught me the journey is about more than just a destination. The journey, even the wrong turns in life, are about developing perseverance when the going gets tough and confusing, about knowing when to ask for help, and about learning to be lighten up and laugh at my mistakes.

As expected, some of those wrong turns in my life have not been the literal kind. But even from those wrong turns, I have learned.

Whether literal or figurative, wrong turns happen to all of us sometimes, just like with the Kansas couple. It’s what we do with them that counts.

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