you find yourself in a forest

Life can be so unexpected, sometimes. We often try so hard to keep it neat, clean, within the lines. Only walk in a straight line, stick to the plan. And I get this. I’ve been there. The unexpected can be scary, because it’s almost always a hell of a question mark. Even when presented with a choice, you then have to be brave enough to choose. Left or right. Leap or stay. You either hold your heart within your chest or offer it in the palm of your hand. You walk down a new street, into an unknown alleyway and see what happens—or you take the same route you’ve always taken.

These seem like clear cut decisions: you either do or you don’t. But that’s hardly the whole story, as much as we may want it to be. Because when making a choice, you find yourself in a forest. The forest is kissed by fog and soft light. There’s one path before you, and you know where it leads. It is a path you’ve walked before. It is safe, steady. Destination certain. There’s no guesswork. You can easily just keep walking, put one foot in front of the other.

But off to your left, you hear a noise. The snap of a twig, perhaps. The crunch of leaves. You turn and look. You lock eyes with a white stag. And for a moment, you hold your breath. For a moment, you don’t even remember where you are. All you can see is the gleaming white fur and kind eyes. You can feel your heartbeat thrumming in your chest, breathe leaning against your ribs. And you wonder at the beauty there, a thing you’ve not seen before.

The deer turns and walks the other way. You then have a choice: step off the path and see if you can catch the deer—or keep going the way you were. Resituate yourself in the familiar and keep to the path. There’s no guarantee you’ll even catch the stag. You might wander after it and never grasp it. You can try and still not succeed. That’s the catch. There are no certainties here, but there is always merit in the journey. It might not go the way you think. It might even be better than you had hoped. But you have to suss out, often in too short a time span, what you want. If you’re brave enough to do the unexpected thing—to say, “to hell with it,” and walk in a direction, knowing that you probably won’t ever see that path again. Knowing that to step off of it means an entirely new world. And it is, of course, terrifying and thrilling, the spark that lights the flame inside your heart.

You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to fall. You have to be willing to explore a part of the unknown. You could lose sight of that stag and never catch it. But what if—what if you did? There’s a crazy amount of joy in that. There is courage in stopping to think you might get what you want. A lot of things in life come down to how brave you are, how brave you’re willing to pretend to be. There’s no absence of fear, only telling it to shut up. Fear doesn’t get to run the show.

I have been that girl in the forest. I have looked at the easy path. I have seen the white hot flash of possibility. When given the choice, when my heart starts to race a certain way, the path stops existing for me. There’s just the curving beauty of a question mark, the stark pull of maybe, what-if clamoring for acknowledgement.

Today, what would you do, if you found yourself on that path? Are you brave enough to follow that deer?

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