stop signWe hear it all the time — it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey itself. Often, this truism is applied to the arc of our lives; as Hunter S. Thompson wrote,

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Thompson’s idea of how to live might be extreme, but I agree with the impulse to stress the journey over the destination. After all, the destination is inevitable. We’re all going to die. How we live our lives is another matter entirely. For me, I hope the last proclamation of my life can be, “Wow! What a Meaningful Ride!”

But there’s another aspect to the journey – the times we’re forced to stop. My friend Rabbi David Markus reminded me of this today, when I complained about coming home from a wonderful vacation with pneumonia. He pointed out that towards the end of the book of Numbers we read an entire chapter that lists the 42 stages of the Israelites’ journey through the desert. Their travels weren’t seamless, but rather interrupted by people and places, unexpected meetings, unanticipated challenges.

His point? The stopping places in our lives hold as much spiritual potential as our travels. Maybe more. Because if we’re paying attention we can take advantage of the stops, take a deep breath, center ourselves, and prepare for the challenges and opportunities that await.

These are hard lessons for me. I prefer to push through, to ignore the stop signs and try to continue on as if nothing has happened. Pneumonia? Nah, I’m just tired from two weeks of travel and jet lag. But if I allow myself to stop, to acknowledge that the journey is not constant, and that I need to take some time to sleep and rest, perhaps I can discern the spiritual truths that stopping provides.

All too often these stopping places are times of tragedy, illness, death, loss. The dark times, when we are challenged to reach deep into ourselves and discover what is within, and hopefully find strengths that may have been hidden, waiting to be needed. The times when we realize that we are not alone, that there are others who are here to help. The times when we turn to the Light to dispel the darkness.

Each of our life journeys is unique, and yet there is one thing that they all share — the opportunity to be our highest selves, to reach out to each other during the stopping points and on the road, to live our lives to our fullest potential, to allow the Light to shine on and through us.