ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church


Dead Ends

Every journey involves choices. Every time we come to a fork in the road – and this occurs again and again – we choose one way over another.

Every choice involves a gain and a loss. We get to experience all that is good and wonderful about the way chosen; we lose the opportunity to taste and enjoy the way not taken.

What about dead ends?

In English, the expression used to describe a chosen path that ultimately leads nowhere is a “dead end.” In Spanish, it’s usually described as a “callejón sin salida.”

The difference in emphasis is interesting. The English expression stresses that there’s no way to move forward, that all our hopes for the journey are dashed. The Spanish phrase says it’s a street with no way out – there’s no exit.

Both ways of looking at the same disappointing situation are correct – and both could benefit from a little optimism.

When you get to a dead end, you’re frustrated because it’s unexpected – it impedes you from going the way you wanted, it devalues the choice you made when you took the fork in the first place.

But … if you’re willing to cut your losses, bite the bullet and admit you made a mistake, you can always turn around, retrace the steps you took till you get back to that fork in the road – and then make a new and hopefully better choice.

In fact, if you really want to go somewhere, there’s no alternative – you have to back up, choose a new direction and once again go full-speed ahead.

A popular device used in psychological experiments is the maze, “a confusing, intricate network of winding pathways … a network with one or more blind alleys,” says my dictionary.

The pessimist sees only the frustration of plans while painfully negotiating the way; the optimist emerges from the labyrinth and says, “Amazing!”

Of course, I’m not talking merely about physical journeys from place to place but the journey as a metaphor for the many “journeys” we make during the course of our lives – and for the journey of life itself.

How painful it is, for example, when we invest an enormous amount of feeling, time and energy in developing a relationship with someone and arrive at a dead end, at a dashing of hopes and plans for the future.

“If you don’t succeed, try, try again.” (That’s the eternal optimist talking.)

How painful it is, for example, when we pour so much of our lives into a quest for justice and peace, in the generous desire to make this world a better place, and we arrive at a dead end.

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” (That’s the realist talking.)

How painful it is, for example, when we indefatigably commit ourselves to the cause of ecumenism, of the unity of the church, and find that all our strategies and tactics have led us to a dead end.

“God writes straight with crooked lines.” (That’s the Holy Spirit blocking our path, when we’re going the wrong way.)

The worst-case scenario is when you seem to have tried every way and taken every fork and you still are in the maze – when you can’t find any exit.

That’s when merely human realism kicks out and real hope – the gift of God – kicks in!

Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern

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