Sometimes when you look back this is what you see. Now it's an interesting perspective to think of your life as a journey and instead of its forward impetus and anticipated corners, you look back and see the way you've come. Except in this photo I didn't see much of the way I'd come because it's round the corner, behind me, out of sight. That too is an intriguing thought - not being able to see back round the corners you've just walked round so you have to remember what it was like, and memory is of course, selective.
Looking back on the road into Kinloch Rannoch this is what I saw. The loch, 20 something miles long; mountains in the distance, layered, hazy and beckoning; less than a hundred metres of road I had just walked, sunlit and shadowed; and a canopy of trees enveloping the visible landscape. Robert Frost's poem about the road less travelled, and the road not taken is one of the great metaphors for reflection, regret, wistfulness or any other prompt for that unsettling question, "what if". What if I had chosen differently; what if I hadn't met this person; what if I had turned down the other job; what if I'd reacted differently; what if I'd shut up and listened. This can get really odd though - what if my mother and father had never met? What if I'd been born 6 foot tall - this is an impartial example, not a real regret - I like being small!
My mother used to mock the 'what if' approach to life - with that mixture of Scottish commonsense and wry humour, "Well, if we'd ham we'd have ham and eggs, if we'd eggs", was her demoilition job on facing life's difficulties with a wish list. What that photo above teaches this man with a camera is that looking back, with apologies to Lot's wife, is sometimes as important as looking forward. And looking back honestly and humbly, the truth is we seldom see clearly the path we have taken, and even less clearly our motives and reasons for decisions, choices, steps taken on that road. The how and why we have come to this place in our lives we are convinced we remember well - but then memory is selective, partial, and as time and years pass, elusive. Sometimes it isn't the road not taken that makes us wonder - it can also be the road taken, with all its unforeseen corners, wrong turnings, confusing choices, impulsive maneouvres, strange meetings, near things, cliff edges, and just to make this string of metaphors utterly contextual and contemporary, pot-holes.
Looking back along this stretch of road, to the edge of the Loch and beyond to the mountains, with the road disappearing round the corner and the shaded and sunlit trees arching over it, I am OK with the journey so far. Would I have chosen differently - yes, maybe, sometimes. Were there wrong turnings - how can we know that? Would I wish some things to have been otherwise - oh I think so, I've never been able to say 'I'd never change a thing.' The two modern secular anthems, 'I Did It My Way' and 'Je ne regret rien' are way too arrogant for me to sing them - sometimes the things I regret are those things where I did it my way!!
But what I like about that photo is the impossibility of the camera retracing my steps, the acceptance that past is past, that there are corners I can neither see round nor retrace steps towards. What I also see is beauty, distance, lancing sunlight, and green shaded shadow. And for all that, some small glimmer of what the Psalmist meant when he said "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life." Looking back I say that too, with varying proportions of gratitude and hopefulness, and I hope, with enough humility to acknowledge the privilege and gift that is the wonder of my life.