The Only Way Out is Through

Originally, TWIN was supposed to be a novel about survival. (It ended up being a novel about family. I suppose that’s not such a very big leap.) I wanted to throw a character I loved into an impossible situation and see how she would solve the most urgent problems first and build up to a sustainable and even beautiful resolution. What would she do if everything was stripped away? Where would she start?

“There was a horrible crunch right by her head and a howl.

‘There’s nothing you can do about that unless you breathe.’ Cara breathed.”


It turns out that all of the heroic deeds ever done have started with breathing. It’s what every soldier did first on the morning of June 6, 1944. It’s what Dr. King did just before saying, “I have a dream.” It’s what your mother did as she gave birth to you. It was Jesus’ last act before he died.

I take a lot of comfort from that when the impossible faces me. I can’t go there. I can’t finish that. I can’t be what they need.


I can breathe. One breath. Then another. And then maybe I can bend my legs. And then I can stand. Another breath. Then another. I open my eyes and look around. And then I take one step.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

–Arthur Ashe

I’ve had this quote on my desk for over a year because this is everything. This accepting the situation you find yourself in. Really accepting it. And then working with what you have.

It’s not that you’re resigned to stay where you are, but that you don’t waste time wishing you were starting from somewhere else. This may not have been the way you planned to go, and maybe it’s not fair that you’re here. But your current location (no matter where it is) isn’t a detour from your life; it is your life.

When I was young, I thought that life was all about choosing your path. You would open the gate and see several roads before you, and it was up to you to pick the best one (most likely the narrowest, least traveled road). Once on your path, your chief concern was not to stray off of it. Like Bilbo in Mirkwood, everything would be fine if you stuck to the road. Let temptation lure you off, and it was all giant spiders and imprisonment.

Now I realize, of course, that life doesn’t work that way at all. There may be a set of paths to choose from in the beginning, but whichever one you choose, it won’t run straight to the destination you think. Life doesn’t pass through Mirkwood, where the road is safe and the only dangers are out there under the trees. Life passes through the Old Forest, where the paths shift under your feet and new paths open in front of you, where you can struggle on in the right direction, but the trees have a mind of their own.

I’m sorry to say there are no shortcuts through the Old Forest. There is only pressing forward, even when you’re not sure exactly where you’re going.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.”

—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

You’re on the way to something unknown, something new. I know the ground underneath you sometimes gives way, and the road is much longer than you thought. But you aren’t alone in this forest. Under these trees, we’re all taking winding paths and tripping over roots and doing what we can. There’s no skipping ahead for any of us, only making it through.

“I walked home in a daze…I cried the entire way…When I walked in, my mother was waiting for me in the main room. She handed me her cup of tea as I sat beside her on the couch. The tea was very strong, exactly what I needed.”

–Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death

I can’t give you a pair of wings to fly away from here. I can’t even draw you a map to the end. But I can make a cup of very strong tea. I can sit down next to you, and we can do the next thing together.

We can breathe.

It’s a place to start.

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