A few days ago, during a marathon travel day from Edinburgh to Reykjavik that involved two cancelled flights, a stopover in Amsterdam, and a six-hour delay, I started thinking about the ways in which people search for guidance. In particular, I thought of how, when I was younger, I searched for signs that reinforced that what I was doing was correct, or that a decision I was making was the right one.
Luckily, I’ve grown out of that. I know that the only signs I need now are my own barometer of peace and the awareness of my unique curiosity. I also know enough at this point to understand that in almost all of life, there is not one single right or wrong choice.
Yet I still see the signs. Some of them are fun little ways I make my life more interesting: spotting a Weimaraner means a good day ahead, a flight in which I’m randomly assigned a seat in row 2, 4, or 8 means that all will be well. (These things have always been true, after all.)
In addition, and perhaps because I love words, I also find myself enjoying actual signs, especially those that include some sort of wisdom. I like the idea that people take the time to put these thoughts and words together, to share with others, because they carry weight in their own lives. So the other day, surrounded by people from all over the world in the bustling Amsterdam airport, I thought about some of the signs I’ve spotted not only on this trip but also on so many others.
Some signs are beautifully optimistic. For instance, while in Edinburgh, I saw this wonderful yellow bench outside of a small eatery. I love it for the color, and I love it even more for what it says:
It reminded me of a sign above an archway in Shakespeare and Company, in Paris, which just seems like it should be a guideline of all life:
Some of the signs are not so happy, of course, like this one in Toronto:
Or this one, which was sprayed on a building in Paris:
…though this one, on the side of a coffee shop in Austin, heartily disagrees:
Luckily, the world rebounds with words on encouragement for the tough times. A set of stairs in New York stood out to me for that:
And a wall at Georgetown University, perhaps painted by some optimistic undergrad for a struggling roommate does the same:
Some signs are a good reminder of caution (while also being very creepy); this sign in South Carolina is a good example:
I like the signs, too, that remind me of what’s important. This sweet note, posted on Thanksgiving Eve in a storefront in the Hampden area of Baltimore, is a reminder that good eating is more important than commerce (and, sometimes, grammar):
And some signs are just downright inspirational. The man playing this piano had taken the instrument to all 50 states, and had this to say to the crowd gathered around him:
And that idea of doing something remarkable is much easier, I’ve found, if I keep this last sign in mind. I completely, finally agree with this statement, and plan on making one of these for myself for my next home, and for every one after that, and for all of my friends to put in their own houses. Those who have kids can keep it in the closet until the time is right to share it with the whole family (which might be sooner than it seems):
So thinking back to the idea of looking for guidance, what if these are the signs that people are really seeking? Maybe it’s just a matter of looking around to see what pops up, and what stands out, and finding our own answers within each.
Incidentally, I’d love to hear about any that have stood out to you over the years; there is a lot to learn. In the meantime, the sun is shining in Iceland, which I’ll take as all the sign I need to shut down my computer, and head outside.