For my readers who are unfamiliar with WordPress‘s “Post a Week” experiment, don’t feel at all ashamed. Until an hour ago, so was I–and I’m a WordPress blogger!
I’ve just begun to participate in this project, so each week I’ll be posting a photograph as well as a short essay on the theme WordPress chooses for that week. Sometimes, the connection will be clear. On other occasions it will be infuriatingly obscure, prompting the hapless souls that stumble upon this blog to read the essay from beginning to end in order to discern what on earth I’m thinking. This week’s image would tend toward the first of these two extremes. I hope. But perhaps you’ll read the whole essay anyway…
Have you ever wondered why a road is where it is?
Some roads were clearly designed by engineers to get travelers from Point A to Point B fast. They are straight and flat; smooth and hard; properly crowned to shed water and properly lit to dispel darkness. They incorporate tunnels if there are mountains in the way and bridges if there are rivers in the way. They smugly bypass lesser roads with concrete overpasses and abutments, their bold green signs defying drivers to lose their way. Efficient. Safe. Dependable. Boring.
Other roads appear to have been designed on a dare–“Bet you can’t get to the top of that mountain and live to talk about it!”–or by goats, drunks or naughty pilgrims doing some serious penance. One’s initial response upon setting out on one of these is, “Who in his right mind would put a road here?” Ludicrous. Dangerous. Harrowing. Fun.
Stairways can evoke the same response. In a building, it’s pretty obvious why they exist. But there are stairways and then there are stairways. At my grandmother’s house there was a rather elegant formal stairway just inside the front door–the banister provided a fast, exhilarating, forbidden way down–and a mysterious back stairway that was enclosed and had a 90-degree turn at the bottom. It possessed screeching doors and squeaking treads and its own scent, which is flooding into my head even as I type these words. It was musty, crooked, noisy and just a little spooky. I used it often.
In some places, stairs do what a road cannot–take the traveler on a shorter route over steep terrain. While not as long, the way is more arduous, and some travelers simply have to take the road. In some cases, having to do that instead of walking the stairs may be a mile marker in one’s life.
I wonder if elderly people in the Ecuadorian village in the photograph have ever said to themselves, “I will walk the stairs one last time”, propelling themselves by pushing off their knees, stopping often to gasp for breath, willing themselves up the last few steps.
I wonder how many mothers have encouraged their small children by saying, “Only sixty more.”
I wonder how many school children have answered questions about cuts and bruises or broken bones with, “I fell down the steps. Yes, those steps.”
I wonder how many teenagers have raced their friends up the stairs–or raced friends who were taking the road.
I wonder who built those stairs. And when.
At times, life is like the Autobahn–smooth and straight, with few impediments. At other times, it’s like a steep set of crooked old steps going right up the side of a mountain. Either way, the journey need not be arbitrary or solitary. David, that ancient king of Israel, wrote,
“Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.” (Psa 25.12, ESV)
Sometimes the highway is the best choice. Sometimes it’s better to take the stairs.
(I took this photo at Chunchi in southern Ecuador in June, 2010. I remember marveling at the vista and wanting like everything to walk up those stairs.)