By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
As interstate 90 shoots through the middle of western South Dakota at dizzying speeds, it offers Exit 127. This non-descript exit has no foreshadowing posting, no name, no description. It does not mention a town, nor a street. Just one sign, Exit 127 One Mile, prior to the actual exit itself in a stretch of the highway that doesn’t even have the time to slow to 75.
I have no idea how often I’ve driven past this exit with nary a thought to it. Never did I think about where the exit might lead, what hidden treasures it might hold, what adventures it might offer, what lessons it might have if only I took the time to explore it. At least, not until today, but, much to my chagrin, I still have not taken the time to look into it.
I started thinking about how many people, how many pieces of art, how many animals I might have passed in my life, be it in my real or metaphorical car, without taking the time to even think about it. How many opportunities have I passed by in a lifetime of rushing to the next big destination, how many people have I failed to even notice?
It’s not my fault. The truth is that we don’t have a lifetime long enough to greet every individual, to pursue every opportunity. We all have to make choices, decide what is important to us, and what, frankly, is not. Sometimes I view my life as a movie. In it, I am, of course, the star. Of the remainder of the cast, some are costars, showing up (at least within given segments) every day or nearly so, some are regulars, making frequent cameos, and some are extras. The extras are the people I don’t really take the time to know, the people I see in the street and walk past, the drivers of the other cars on the highway, people whose impact on the storyline of my life seems inconsequential.
The problem with this analogy are the accompanying blues. For each one of those “extras”, I am the extra in their lives. That leads to the cameo appearances I’ve made in people’s lives that may have been regular, but were, in reality, short-lived. All too often, far too-shortlived. For the people who I had hoped would be costars and turned out to be temporary, I can’t help but wonder if they still think of me as often as I do them. The reality is, quite honestly, probably not.
How is it that in two stories, I can be so meaningless in their story, when they had a lasting impact in mine. Am I as meaningless in the story of their life as Exit 127 is to my travels?
But take heart, dear Reader. Whether you are taking pity on me, or empathizing as you put yourself in my shoes, I will end with encouraging words. On my drive, with another hour remaining in my journey, there was plenty of time to contemplate yet another passage of Exit 127. Then, it occurred to me that, non-descript as it might be, the exit has a purpose. No often how often I pass it by, no matter how many other drivers pass it without a second thought, it does, after all, lead somewhere. It matters. Maybe not to everybody, but it matters.
What’s more, it is very important to some people. There are those who see this exit and think of home, of comfort, people who think of Love.
Last night, I had the opportunity to meet with an old and dear friend of mine. I was not in town very long, and in her movie, I am, no doubt, a regular cameo actor. She took the opportunity to remind me the importance of the role I play in her movie, and in the movie of many other common friends. She took the time, and the effort, to tell me that, even as a cameo actor, I have impacted her movie, changed its storyline, and made it better. Being who I am, I find it difficult to take compliments, especially when they are so powerful, but her sincerity left no room for doubt.
I have made a difference to people. I’ve impacted their lives, or movie lines if you prefer, and in a positive way. What’s more, I know that I have made such an impact in more lives than I know. I’ve mattered to people, people still in my life, and people who are not, people who have been vocal of that impact, and people who carry it quietly in their heart.
The same is true for you.