That Left Turn at Albuquerque (text & audio)

How many of you remember Loony Tunes? When I was a child, Saturday morning cartoons were not complete without my weekly dose of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and Wyle E. Coyote being outsmarted by his arch-nemesis, the Roadrunner. I loved the silliness and slapstick humor then, and I as I grew up, I realized how subtle and subversive some of the shorts really were. Loony Tunes introduced me to new musical styles as Bugs and Elmer presented The Barber of Seville and a condensed version of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” operas…”kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit”. I also got to witness transgenderism without prejudice since the male characters often donned dresses as a disguise which allowed for the shifting of gender roles, as well.

All of these were my favorite at one time or another. Yet I often am reminded of another batch of shorts that began with a mole-like tunnel raised up and moving as Bugs burrowed his way along, finally popping up with the expectation of being in a certain place. To his surprise and frustration, he often found that he wasn’t where he thought he’d be.  “Hey, wait a minute. This doesn’t look like Los Angle – eez or Pismo Beach or Coney Island.” He’d pull out a map and check it and then declare, “I knew it;(say it with me) I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”

Now I admit that when I stumbled on this idea for a sermon, my goal was (and is) to talk about those times in our lives when we get derailed from our original plans. I wanted to talk about learning to stop second guessing ourselves and be with what is in the present moment. I thought I’d be able to offer something of value in sharing how I have come to cope with the need to check my internal GPS and recalculate my journey. And I will do those things. But first, I really want to tell you that I have spent several joy-filled hours in YouTube research viewing old Loony Tunes clips.

I have giggled at the antics of these characters, and I have recalled the tension I used to feel as a child when I knew something was going to go “wrong” for Bugs or Daffy. It has helped me to know that I still enjoy the silliness along with the social commentary. I may not have ended up where I thought I was going to go (Me? A minister? Really?)…and I still have lots of road left ahead of me…but Bugs Bunny was a great mentor in not only accepting where he ended up, but also in diving right in and embracing the adventure at hand rather than wallowing in the “should have/could have” swamp of regret.

That famous Robert Frost poem that James read illustrates this idea of choosing a path without looking back in regret. The traveller is faced with two paths. Each of them holds beauty, the promise of adventure and mystery. Frost describes the beauty of the fall day with the phrase “yellow wood”…can’t you just imagine yourself there? The paths were similar in wear, one fading into undergrowth, the other a bit grassy, and both were covered “in leaves no step had trodden black”. The traveller chooses one path knowing that even though he may at times wish for the ability to go back and choose the other one, that probably won’t happen.

Why? Why can’t we go back and choose again? Because life happens while we’re walking along. Each decision leads to another choice. Each path leads us onward and the terrain changes moment by moment. In Frost’s words, “way leads on to way”. In order to go back there are many choices that would need to be revised, and that’s not usually possible.

What do you do when you find yourself in a place you didn’t expect? Well, Bugs’ system was to check his map. He looked at it to discern where he’d gone astray from his original plan. Again, that left turn at Albuquerque was usually his biggest divergence. So when you or I are in a place of wondering “where am I and how did I get here?”, the first step might be to figure out where you meant to be based on your map.

And here we come to the next point. Who made the map? Is this my map? Did I agree to this route or even the destination that was supposed to be waiting for me? Maybe; maybe not.

Sometimes we come to a point in our lives and realize that the reason we are confused or displeased with the outcome is because we’ve been following someone else’s map. As a parent, I know how tempting it is to dream up lives for my children that would allow them to find happiness as I define it. Many of our parents did the same thing and many of them also felt it was best if they gave us that map to their happiness. Some of us followed that particular route and it may have led to some happiness and maybe a great deal of it, but for others of us, that map that was given didn’t meet our needs and when we got to the supposed destination we found that rather than the fun and excitement of Coney Island we ended up at the South Pole, frozen, barren and isolated.

Bugs Bunny’s next step after consulting his map was to notice what was around him. He’d take in his surroundings so he could be in the now. He’d sometimes try to find someone to ask for directions. Do you remember the one where he was trying to find the Coachella Valley Carrot Festival and ended up in a bullring in Spain? That’s a pretty big detour. So he asked for help. Unfortunately, the toreador was too busy running away from el toro to give any answer. In order to find his way, Bugs had to be present with his surroundings and then figure things out from there.

Often in mentally retracing our steps to find where we veered from the path we expected, we notice new and interesting things in our immediate environment that may not have been present in the intended destination. What’s new in your world? What can be learned from the detour you took?  Is it necessary or helpful to go back and try to correct the “mistake” and attempt to bring that into the now, or is it no longer relevant based on your current paradigm.

We are different at each point in life. What may have seemed like a good idea at 25 may not work at 35 or 52 or 78. Each day we are given the opportunity to recalculate our internal GPS based on new coordinates and new insights. We can learn to let go of others’ expectations. We cannot live for our parents, our friends, our partners, or our children. Happiness and contentment are inside jobs.

There are many stories of people who have been living with a diagnosis of a disease such as cancer or HIV, who say that the illness has been “the best thing that happened to me”. How on earth can that be? How could something that seems so devastating turn into something described as “the best”? Perhaps you can remember an event in your life that at the time seemed horrible, but as you lived with it and moved through the subsequent days and months, you found that there were blessings present, hidden gems, that you would not have found without the initial shock. In times like these, the internal GPS is recalculating a new roadmap based on a new reality, just like when you are driving your car and encounter a roadblock or a sign reading “bridge out”. We can help this recalculation by sitting with what is, activating the internal observer, and refusing to mindlessly follow some preconceived notion of what we should do or should feel.

Yet there are always those “what if’s” that come up from time to time. Some of those are recurring questions: What if I made the wrong career decision? What if I had gone to the private college rather than the big state university? What if I hadn’t broken off that relationship? What would my life be like now? And really the underlying thought about those kind of questions is: Would I be happier in that life scenario than I am right here and now?

Most of the questions I just asked can keep us firmly focused on the past, ensconced in regret, and living only half a life when we wake up every morning. What is the reward for this?  Because there has to be a reward or you wouldn’t do it, right? Perhaps the reward is escaping from a currently difficult and stressful situation. Perhaps the reward is keeping a fantasy alive of who you once were. Bruce Springsteen wrote a whole song about that one: Glory Days.

Sure, life as we know it is sometimes chock full of difficulty, pain, frustrations, and imperfections. But change doesn’t happen in trying to relive the past. Changing your now can only happen by moving forward into the future that you create based on the choices you make today. Bugs Bunny never did go back and take that left turn at Albuquerque. What he did is what we can do, too. Take stock of your situation, look for guides and allies – even those who may seem like enemies can act as guides along the way– and, always be willing to embrace where you are and be open to whatever the adventure offers. This is the key to recalculating the internal GPS and setting our sights on the road ahead.