Taking note: Simple signs

Countless roadside signs seemed to float by in the darkness as I drove along the highway. Some were lit up by their own power, while others relied on the headlights illuminating their reflective surface.

Signs telling you the price of gas. Signs directing you to another county road, highway or interstate.

Signs letting you know sharp curves lie ahead. Signs pointing out cultural heritage sites, rest areas, tourist traps.

Signs encouraging you to drive safely. Signs informing you of offerings such as “great pet-friendly lodging” and “chips, 2 for $5.”

Some are temporary messages, composed of blocky, plastic letters that someone has painstakingly arranged to inform passerby of seasonal products or limited-time offers.

Other signs are more persistent, offering simple, long-lasting truths such as “Scenic area: 500 feet ahead.” “Steep grade: Turn off AC to prevent overheating.” “No gas for 50 miles.” “High winds may be present.”

These signs can be a strange comfort when you’re driving along a dark, deserted stretch of road.

The flash of your headlights upon one of these signs can illuminate the fact that someone thought about you and all the weary drivers who would drive this stretch.

They imply someone knew there would be moments like this.

Someone decided a permanent marker was needed to inform travelers of a roadside park or an upcoming hazard.

They cared enough to make these messages shine through the darkness.

I think this underlying humanity, the desire to convey a simple, critical message, is why roadside signs have always resonated with me.

But I know roadside signs still might seem insignificant.

And this is maybe a metaphor for life.

We tend to let the obvious and commonplace things blend right into the background.

We like to focus on larger, more interesting, more complex patterns.

But we might be ignoring what’s right in front of us: The obvious, simple, helpful truths.

In effect, the roadside signs of life.

The brightly lit, large-print message that we often speed past without a second glance.

The obvious things we ignore because we’re busy thinking about the complexities of life, developing a world made of our expectations and assumptions.

It’s easy to become preoccupied with the destination of a journey and forget to pay attention to what’s right in front of you.

But our journey might be smoother if we take the time to look at what’s around us.

The road can be so much easier if we take the time to observe the simple truths and understand what they mean in terms of our destination.

Our world might not make a lot of sense if we endlessly focus on the big picture, the myriad intricacies, all the roads that intersect, all the paths we must travel and the choices we make on the way to our destination.

But when we pay attention to the signs right in front of us, we might find the journey is less confusing.

The choices are made easier.

The route is more direct.

And when we honor the simple and obvious things — when we look at the world from the bottom up, rather than top-down — we might start to understand ourselves, others and the world a little bit better.

Because when we start acknowledging what’s right in front of us, the kind, simple, truthful messages, we can develop a more comprehensive, compassionate understanding of our lives and our worlds.

And just like roadside signs, we can make everyone’s journey a little smoother when we are willing, in turn, to illuminate our own simple truths.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cecilia Brown is city editor at The Mining Journal. She lives in Marquette and can be found hiking if the weather’s nice, or curled up with a book if not. Contact her at cbrown@miningjournal.net.


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