detours and delaysDetours and delays can bring out the worst in us. Another slowdown? Another rerouting of plans? Come on! We have got places to go and people to see. Who really has time to downshift and head in another direction when the route you’ve mapped out is perfectly fine?

These thoughts and more careened around in my head yesterday as I was returning from visiting friends out of state. After about the tenth lane closure, I started to mark on a scrap of paper the re-routing of the interstates I traveled. Granted, it’s summer and road construction is at a premium in these states whose thoroughfares are frozen over in winter. But, for road travelers, who want to . . . well . . . travel, and travel efficiently, detours and lane closures are annoyingly frustrating.

Recalibrating Our Plans

Surely, we know which direct route is best! If only state transportation and road departments would consult with us first before messing with our travel plans. Hmmm. . .  sounds a bit like our daily lives too. If only Someone would check with us first on our mapped-out directions and schedule. On our priorities and time constraints. We have places to go and people to see.

I’m here to tell you that detours and delays that force a recalibrating of our plans actually have an upside. I discovered this anew yesterday when the wildfires burning in western Colorado dictated that I take a two-lane highway to the north. Instead of setting cruise control for 75+ mph through the middle of Colorado on I-70, I found myself rerouting to more desolate, winding Highway 40.

Before I crossed the state line into Colorful Colorado, I pulled over to a high-desert rest stop replete with near-100 temps and crusty earth dotted with crunchy dry sagebrush. I made sure Maisie’s backseat kennel was out of direct sun and hurried to the women’s room. I was going to make the best of my detour home by zipping in here and keeping the pedal to the medal. Five minutes tops and I’d be back on the road.

But wouldn’t you know it, this quick pit stop turned into an unexpected delay in itself. Blame it on my conversationalist strengths or divine intervention, or both, but I struck up a twenty-minute dialogue with the custodian of this blink-and-you-miss-it rest stop. I’ll call her Selma, a dedicated worker who has cared for the buildings and grounds for more than 15 years. Wow! I just can’t imagine relentlessly cleaning toilets that hundreds of complete strangers use every day. And we know how some travelers can be piglets in the potty.

But you know what, my chat time with Selma was such an upside to my detour. In the middle of hot-as-Hades heat, the two of us stood in an oasis of green grass and trees that she waters and tends. Selma takes her dog to work every day, and Maisie and her pooch lounged in the few patches of breezy shade while Selma and I talked. When Selma learned that I am a writer, she immediately wanted to know what I write. I told her how my new Bend book is at the printer and it features remarkable stories of resiliency and coming back from adversity.

Silencing Our Inner Fidgeting

“Resiliency. I know plenty about that,” Selma offered before sharing about her abusive childhood and how a counselor helped her work through her years of anger and shame. Selma doesn’t care to forgive the relative who harmed her and prefers these days to focus on life with her own family. And someday she says she’ll “complete the circle of life” in heaven.

Selma and her husband live out on 200 acres at the corner of Nowhere and Heading Somewhere. Every day she catches glimpses of in-a-hurry travelers—few pause to even notice her. She’s the help, the invisible lady with the mop and rolls of toilet paper.

Yet yesterday, Selma became a friendly wise woman to me who just needed someone to listen. As Selma shared her hidden pain, I silenced my inner fidgeting and my timetable for getting back on the road. I listened instead of lashed internally at my need to get in my vehicle and keep heading east. Who cares if I arrived home a half hour later than planned?

There is an upside to life’s detours and delays, if only we’re willing to lean into them. If you’re like me, the people and places along the way may just pleasantly surprise you.