You know the famous Dr. Seuss book "Oh, The Places You'll Go?" Every time you have ever completed a phase of life, someone surely read this to you or quoted parts of it or kicked you out of the house and told you to get a job.

And it's supposed to be this really inspirational and motivational explanation about how wonderful your life is going to be. At least, that's how I remember it.

"You're off to great places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose!"

I remember the book going on and on and on about all of the amazing opportunities and experiences that await you in life and how fulfilling and wonderful it will all be.

Then, on Thanksgiving, my five-year-old niece Kate walked over to me, book in hand, and commanded me to read it to her.

Kate is sort of like a horrifying monster so we all just do exactly what she says. Because we don't want to wake up the next morning with a horse head in our sheets.

I started reading it. All of that stuff about "you're off to great places! You're off and away!" All of that stuff about flying high and soaring with the eagles, etc. etc. etc.

And I was reading all of that fluff and thinking about how there was this whole other side of the story that wasn't being represented very well. A side of the story that doesn't involve ending up in the most amazing places and doing incredible things. A side of the story where people you love die or leave you. A side of the story where you fail at something that really matters. A side of the story where you sometimes end up alone on a Saturday night feeling a little friendless and sad.

And then the book took a turn that I swear must have just been added because I do NOT remember this from my childhood.

After pages and pages of emphatically exclaimed literary optimism, I flipped one more page and it was all, "oh, but, actually, a lot of crap will probably go down too. And you'll probably end up feeling like you're doing nothing with your life while all of your friends are having babies and running for mayor. And on Thanksgiving, you'll show up alone. AGAIN. And your friends and younger siblings will start buying houses and that's when you'll look up 'equity' for the first time in your life because the most significant item you've ever purchased is a blanket with sleeves."

I'm paraphrasing. But that's basically what it says. It just has a lot more words like "whozits" and "trigamoroo." Also it rhymes in the book.

And as I read this and Dr. Seuss continued on about how your hot air balloon will get popped by a tree and all of your friends' hot air balloons will soar on and you'll feel like the only person in the world who has fallen into a ditch, I was like, "YES! YOU GET ME DR. SEUSS! YOU REALLY GET ME!"

I trusted Dr. Seuss in that moment. And I immediately wanted him to take a look at my ringworm, foot disease, and throat chlamydia. And I don't even know if he takes my insurance!

At this point Kate's attention span ran out and she threw another book at me and yelled "READ." And I was like, "SHHHH! I'm trying to finish this story!"

So I went off alone and read the rest of the book. And eventually it turned positive again. It explained that you can get out of that slump. And that you will. And that ultimately you'll get on track to see and do great things. And "you're off to great places! You're off and away!"

And then I flipped the page.

And as if the book was concerned it hadn't made itself clear the first time, it was all like, "except maybe that WON'T happen for you. And your life might royally suck sometimes. And you'll probably be alone forever. Here. Have some cheesecake."

Again, paraphrasing, slightly.

I was reading and reading. And this silly little book I've had quoted at me all of my life suddenly started to tell a lot of my story. And the story of so many people I know. Probably, the story of every person I know. And I wanted to keep reading. Keep reading and find out how it all ends. Find out what the heck I'm supposed to do when my balloon is deflated in a tree and I fall into that ditch. And find out how I'm supposed to handle life's biggest disappointments.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore
and your sneakers leak.

On and on you will hike,
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)


I finished the last couple of pages. When I put the book down I had that look on my face like the world's mysteries had just been presented to me.

And I've been thinking about that a lot in the last few days. About how that crash and burn feeling is apparently normal. About how Dr. Seuss never actually promised us that we were all going to be president of the United States and they would one day name a sandwich after us. And how all he really promised us is that we have control of our general trajectory. But not all the crap that hits us on the way.

And that's ok.

Because you know what? The crap along the way--the tree that deflates the balloon, the ditch, the being alone on Thanksgiving and not knowing what equity is--none of that stuff makes us who we are. Neither do the "great places" or having babies or being mayor, by the way.

What makes us who we are is how we respond to it all. The good and the bad. The pleasant and the frustrating. The normal and the strange.

What makes us who we are is whether we can force ourselves to keep going when the one thing we want most is taken from us. What makes us who we are is whether we can keep being kind to others when the world isn't being kind to us. What makes us who we are is whether we can maintain a sense of humility when treasures pour down upon us, and a sense of self-worth when they are taken away.

Getting cut down hurts.

Being cut down is demoralizing.

But sometimes it's impossible to get to your great places without a snip snip along the way.

So, yeah. You may not get to pick all the places you'll end up. But "you can go any direction you choose." And I have to think that a life of positive perseverance on that point must take you to some pretty amazing places. Eventually.

Whozits and trigamoroo. And all that jazz.

~It Just Gets Stranger