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Straying from the Beaten Path

As functional members of a community, we bend to a certain degree of societal pressure. Unspoken expectations assert themselves from the eyes of those around us, establishing a code of conduct by which we lead “acceptable” lives. Though this code totes its benefits, it can also be stifling. Those who breach societal expectation, to even the most harmless degree, are looked upon in astonishment and, often, animosity. Having recently taken certain pride in my own minor veering from the straight-and-narrow, I assert that occasionally challenging the expected and accepted is a healthy and rewarding pastime.

In retrospect, I suppose many aspects of my life have challenged cultural norms. I attended a performing arts high school with students prone to breaking into song and dance in the halls and (GASP) no sports to speak of. I have next to no interest in partying, sports, shopping, or other stereotypical teenage interests. I’m planning on majoring in dance and neuroscience, which frankly I’m surprised doesn’t blow people’s minds more than it does. I could go on, but it was a much more casual wander from the beaten path that recently invigorated me.

It involved literally straying from the beaten path. In walking from class to class, I’ve found that it is much more efficient to disregard sidewalks completely and simply attempt to transverse a straight line from point A to point B. At first, I only practiced this when doing otherwise would result in my being late. Recently, however, I have ceased in being so selective. Unless I do so to avoid mud, puddles, or arriving at my destination awkwardly early, I hardly acknowledge sidewalks at all anymore. I utilize them if they happen to overlap with my already planned trajectory, but not when they veer.

Breaking the sacred covenant of the sidewalk doesn’t particularly draw the judgment of my fellow human beings. Perhaps they assume I am always in a hurry and therefore accept the practice. I feel they somehow justify or explain the behavior mentally, as people are prone to do. Looking in from the other side, I make my own brand of judgments.

As I take that daring leap from society’s suggestion into the tangles of the unknown, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of triumph. I am deconstructing a barrier that once enclosed me. I am allowing my direction to be determined by me and myself alone. I am defying “the man,” blatantly refusing to lead my life within preset parameters. I am fearless, strong, independent, free. Awash in a sea of mini-epiphanies, I find myself judging those still traversing that less-than-yellow brick road. I wonder if they ever considered what could happen if Dorothy strayed from the path. There’s a whole wonderful land out there, ripe for exploring. There are decisions waiting to be made, discoveries yearning to be realized. In neglecting to challenge that chain which binds us to societal norms, people fail to enjoy the endless possibility that defines this life.

They accept without question the box they’ve been trained to think inside, never fully realizing that said box doesn’t actually exist.

As I cut through the grass on my way to class today, I shall again feel a touch of this enlightenment. It serves to remind me, if in a tiny way, that I am my own person, free to forge my own way in this world. I wish I could impart this illumination onto my fellows on that stalled concrete conveyer belt, but for now, I leave them to find their own liberation from “the box.”

“Where the Sidewalk Ends”

Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends

And before the street begins,

And there the grass grows soft and white,

And there the sun burns crimson bright,

And there the moon-bird rests from his flight

To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black

And the dark street winds and bends.

Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow

We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,

And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,

For the children, they mark, and the children, they know

The place where the sidewalk ends.

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