They want a wilderness with a map
but how about errors that give a new start?
Or leaves that are edging into the light?
Or the many places a road can’t find?
— William Stafford, American poet (1914-1993), from the poem A Course in Creative Writing
On October 5th my husband and I were driving north on Interstate 10 between Indio and Palm Springs, California. A full-size billboard came into view against the backdrop of sand dunes and desert peaks, the background printed like a piece of lined paper in a spiral notebook. In old-fashioned typewriter letters were these words:
A test, not a final.
If I remember correctly, we both said “Wow!” at the same time. A test, not a final. Talk about a “look-twice and think again” perspective. After googling the phrase to find out more about this mysterious message, I found several articles. Another billboard from the same series reads:
The only downturns comparable to this were in: 1797, 1807, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907, 1918, 1929, 1937, 1945,1948, 1953, 1957, 1960, 1969, 1973, 1980, 1981, 1990, 2001, and hmmm?…never mind.
This message encourages us to look at any stressful, current situation in context to the passing of time (inevitable) and the (ever-consistent) constant of change, what I’ve come to call the long view.
According to Florida-based designer Charlie Robb, he was commissioned to design the billboards by an anonymous East coast donor who was “depressed about how the country was reacting to the economy’s tailspin…and [who] wants to remain anonymous out of a belief that you don’t do public service for recognition.” The actual physical billboards are being donated by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, (OAAA) because they thought it was a “great way to give back to the country.”
Viewing situations with more productive, empowered and creative ways of thinking does not lessen the hard reality of the widespread, oftentimes traumatic and heart-breaking consequences of recessions, natural disasters and other events that are out of our control. It does, however give us the needed energy, spunk, courage and out-of-the-box thinking to take what has landed in our laps and create something different and life-affirming. A third billboard reads:
Stop obsessing about the economy; you’re scaring the kids.
What do we want to teach our children about difficult times? How many bad choices have been laid bare in order to make new choices? Where have deep integrity, civility, and wisdom been hiding? How many old ways are transforming into new starts, new adventures, new possibilities?
• Draw your own map, or add helpful landmarks to the old one • Admit to, apologize for, and learn from mistakes • Remember that light couldn’t exist without the dark • Be prepared to strike out into the unknown • Be more than you think you can be • Laugh long and hard between the tears and 3 a.m. crazies • Don’t go it alone; collaborate • Embrace paradox; nurture lightheartedness and do what’s necessary.
Obsessing gobbles up huge amounts of physical, emotional, and mental energy. Changing perspectives releases that energy so we can take positive, productive and affirming actions. With plenty left over to have a good belly laugh with the kids.