Have you spent some time reflecting on how you found your path in life? Assuming you have one, that is. Was your path linear, the calculated culmination of a 5, 10, or 20-year plan? Or was it more circuitous, perhaps the result of a series of fits and starts, happenstance, or maybe just dumb luck? The stories of our life journeys are probably as diverse as the people who own them. The most fortunate among us end up in a place that suits us – our temperament, our interests, our skill set, our passion. Gale Eaton looks into her rearview mirror at the rich, meandering road she has traveled.

Before her retirement, Wakefield, Rhode Island resident Gale Eaton taught at and directed the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island. 

“I’ve always wondered where this road goes,” said Dad, turning off the route to their next appointment. Mother sighed. She liked to be early. With Dad for some reason she ended up making apologies. By celestial navigation or dead reckoning through fog banks he’d get there—eventually. 

As a teenager, summers on the Maine coast, I experimented with getting lost in abandoned quarries up Kench’s Mountain. You couldn’t get too lost there, with salt water on one side and Route 176 on the other, but you could wander into the familiar from new angles; a broad granite avenue suddenly looked like a Roman road. Losing my way in the quarry was a break from the daunting task of finding my way through life. 

Mazes were puzzles with only one solution, and life to a conscientious teen in the 1960s looked like a high-stakes maze. For each of us there was a destined path, and each of us was responsible for finding it. But how? Education didn’t tell me. On graduating from college I hadn’t found my one true path and it worried me. I thought it meant I wasn’t grown up yet. 

So hoping to grow up well-rounded I went to work in the Boston Public Library, where there were all kinds of books and all kinds of people. It offered more ways to get lost than the quarry. Open books on tables spoke to people, who spoke to each other. Books on shelves lobbed bits of insight and information back and forth, invisible webs connecting them in unforeseen ways. Some library users knew exactly what they wanted—and my job was to help them, whether I thought they were on the right path or not. Others wandered the aisles at random to see where they ended up—and with luck I could say, “I just found one you’re going to love.” I’d wandered into a place where I could help other searchers, and where my elders helped both me and the readers with unfailing kindness. 

I worked there for seven years, and learned that life, like a library, is a maze with many solutions. We don’t have to figure out the one true path through it before we even start. We get to create our paths as we follow them, and paths created with patience and verve will get us where we need to go, eventually.