Left Turns Ahead

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.

……….

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
18 comments
  1. […] wild with the mama bear and her cubs? Out there in the beauty and the splendor and the rawness of the wilderness? It’s the place to take chances. To risk. To be bold. To be wholly ourselves. Because our […]

  2. So true. And very well said. Thank you for your widsom.

  3. Made me cry. Love to you. Love to your dad. Love to your gift of poignancy.

  4. I can’t properly express the way this made me feel, so at the risk of sounding too analytical, here are some words:

    Poignant. Heart-rending. Enchanting. Endearing. Wistful. Can you give your fear-defeating skills to my husband? There are so many places I want to share with him that I can’t, because heights give him terrible vertigo. I think he would have been just as white-knuckled as you.

  5. Perfect!

  6. Oh yes some of us still miss it! All I have to say is be glad that you weren’t on the bench seat in the back with your knees to your chest – that made all of those ‘turns’ even more interesting!

  7. This is really great, thank you.

  8. Beautiful!

  9. Even though you made me cry, I just loved this. Last night’s “God made farmers” commercial made me miss my farmer ex-Marine daddy, and this just brought back more memories. Thank you. I really enjoy your writing.

  10. Two statements in my own defense: First, lest anyone think that air transportation is *ever* anything less than sane and safe I steadfastly maintain [channeling William Jefferson Clinton] “I did not perform an aerobatic maneuver with that airplane!” Second, in regards victimization of helpless teenagers flying to and from boarding school, it should be pointed out that one of your fellow passengers LOVED it and is now a captain at a major airline!

  11. Beautiful and true. Love you Beth. And even left turns face first into the pavement teach us something, right Papa Ian?

    1. Jeez Heidi… I thought we were keeping our flailing feet on the down-low…

  12. I absolutely love your writing style! At present, I seem to be in one continuous Left Turn, and your words couldn’t have come at a better time… Thank you for giving me hope again!

  13. Wow. Just WoW!
    My Mom is a person that lives with regrets. She used to ask me all the time what I would go back and change in my life. And I think that she was a little surprised when I finally commented that I have no regrets at all. If I changed one awful thing that happened to me in my past, it could very well have changed the direction that my went completely which would mean that I wouldn’t be here today. And I love today.
    I have been present in every moment, highs and lows, and it is all those moments that have shaped me into the person I am today. Those moments have made me a caring, compassionate person, that is willing to step outside my own comfort zone to help another human being (sometimes a lot of human beings all at once). I have learned to love perfect strangers, have exchanged hate for empathy, realized that no one signed a contract to live up to my expectations, and learned the best part about being human is that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Life really isn’t about how well you win, it is more about how much you learn when you lose. All my best life’s lessons came from the worst moments, the losses, and my own mistakes in judgement.

  14. beautfiful… thank you, Beth!

  15. You can’t make me cry like that because I think I’m getting a cold, what with all the sneezing I’ve been doing this morning, and I only have one tissue at my desk – which means I’ll have to wipe tears with my hands this time. You are so fundamentally poetic within your musings, and I thank you for it today especially.

  16. Beautiful words xxx

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