We always turned left at the river to get home, and it made my dad giddy every time. My dad, flying us home over the jungles of Indonesia. Weightless in the air, bumping along to the persistent hum of the engine.
“Leeefffffffffffffffft tuuuuuuuurrn!” he’d holler, tipping the little Cessna tail dragger airplane suddenly, a smooth pirouette on the tiptoe of the wing, and I’d hang suspended to my side, caught in the 5-point harness and white-knuckling whatever I could find while I looked at the jungle below us.
My dad would turn to me then and grin his Cheshire-cat grin, watching me with exhilaration shining in his eyes. “Leeeffffffffft tuuurrn at the river!” he’d holler again. And I’d stare back in dead panic.
I always hated the left turn. Hated it. I hated the way my stomach dropped. Hated that I couldn’t embrace the rush. Hated that the left turn was inevitable. But I always longed to love the left turn the way my dad did, you know? And I wondered what it was like not to be a creature of fear.
It turns out life isn’t a straight shot. It’s a winding path.
We drove north to my cousin Jen’s house last Thanksgiving. Five hours of family fun in our van. And I thought about life while my kids listened to One Direction and watched Brave on my laptop and argued about snacks and sides and said stupid and Hey, Maaahmm! He said stupid! And Hey, Maaahmm! Now he said shut up!
I thought about life’s crazy switchbacks and the surprises around the bends. I thought about the good times and the bad, the journey and the plan, and also bahahahaha, the plan.
I thought about the people I never saw coming who are my everything, and I thought about the losses I couldn’t have known to expect. I gasped with pain at some of those losses, and I hung suspended for a time in my 5-point harness, looking at the untamed wilderness underneath me, caught in grief and what-ifs and whys and how comes, shaken for my own losses and for the losses of friends. And I thought about the gifts that came with the losses and around the griefs and under the sorrows. And I considered the light Love shines in the darkness. And the sweet discoveries and deep joys and rich flavors that are more complex with salt and sour mixed up inside them.
And I saw this sign.
As we came up over the rise, I saw this sign.
Left Turns Ahead, it said.
Left Turns Ahead.
And I wept when I saw it all in my mind’s eye. The good and the bad rushing toward me in a flood, around the corners that are inevitable.
In that instant, in my head, in a flash, my dad turned to me like he did in 1986 and hollered, “LEEEFFFT TUURRRN, Kid! LEEEFFFT TUURRRN at the river!” And I gripped at life with white knuckles like I always do. But I grinned back at him, too. A Cheshire-cat grin through my tears.
Because I remembered something about left turns that day. Something my dad knew all along as he hauled us through the jungle:
Left turns take us home.