It’s a quiet neighborhood of older homes, flowering gardens, and curving streets that come together at stops and the occasional traffic light. It’s a neighborhood with children, several schools, and a community park. Opposite the park where both adults and children tend to gather year round is an intersection of five small roads, previously navigated by stop signs and attentiveness.
Several years ago — I have no idea why — the city installed a roundabout. What’s more, it’s dressed up with an impressive display of rocks and landscaping at its center, all very pretty, but significantly obstructing a once clear view.
Now the roundabout may be commonplace in the UK, and I’ve managed to close my eyes when riding in a Parisian taxi zipping across non-existent lanes in one of the gnarliest circles in Paris, also known as l’Etoile. Happily, whenever I’ve been in France or the UK, I haven’t had the need to drive, and I wouldn’t begin to know how to manage a merging circle.
And in the US?
Rare are those instances when I’ve had to do just that, so I haven’t been required to possess this particular skill.
Until this nearby neighborhood change, that is.
Roundabouts are the exception in my navigational universe, both literally and metaphorically. When I find myself with an obstacle impairing my vision or my goals, I’m generally quick to determine options, make adjustments or otherwise devise a means of getting myself back on the proverbial straight and narrow. In my professional life, at least; relationships are always trickier.
As for this five-road intersection, each time I find myself at the aforementioned spot, perhaps once a month or so, I’m stumped. I tend to stop and try to process. Most of the time I’d like to circle past two of the streets and essentially go straight (which used to be easy), but I frequently take the first possible exit just to extricate myself from the confusion.
This isn’t entirely foolish; it’s a longer way home, but a no-brainer and safe.
My experience of other roundabouts is this: Once on, I go round and round as if on a merry-go-round unable to find the right space or rhythm for getting off, typically inching over and circling some more. Eventually, I’m heading in the direction that I need.
Those are larger and more complex circles of course, and in the example of my neighborhood roundabout with single lane traffic, the task is simpler though I’m consistently disturbed by the inability to see what is ahead. But we can’t always see what is immediately next, can we? And isn’t this especially true if we’re distracted or enchanted by some beautiful diversion that takes our eyes off the road and our minds off our destination?
It seems to me that we get trapped in roundabouts on a regular basis, real and otherwise, more so at various points in life. We find ourselves caught in a spin of sorts, not exactly a hamster wheel, but nonetheless unable to move in the direction we think is best. And so we go round and round sometimes speeding up, sometimes slowing down, sometimes colliding, sometimes getting off in the wrong spot, then needing to double back and try again. Most of us ultimately arrive where we want to go. If we’re open to it, we make a few discoveries along our alternate routes.
The secret to our success in this, as in so many other little detours in life?
Care, persistence, judgment — and a bit of luck doesn’t hurt.
How we learn to accept our unanticipated navigational challenges?
I suppose we have to keep our wits about us, stay as flexible as possible, and when appropriate, resolve to find the hidden treasure in our extended travels if we can: the sensation of motion, the unusual views, a glimpse of crepe myrtle planted in the heart of an unexpected journey.
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