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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:

Sadly, I never actually saw anyone sitting here.

Sadly, I never actually saw anyone sitting here.

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:

You might still keep in mind, of course, that they might also be assholes.

Just to be on the safe side, you might still keep in mind that they might also be assholes.

Some of the signs are not so happy, of course, like this one in Toronto:

Actually, please don't. However awesome or strange, we need your talent. I promise.

Actually, please don’t. However awesome or strange, we need your talent. I promise.

Or this one, which was sprayed on a building in Paris:

Come on, Paris. No, it's not mort. Look around. You're Paris, after all; it's everywhere.

Come on, Paris. No, it’s not mort. Look around. You’re Paris, after all; love is everywhere.

…though this one, on the side of a coffee shop in Austin, heartily disagrees:

I really do!

I really do!

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:

Thanks, Stairs. Now I can finish climbing you.

Thanks, Stairs. Now I can finish climbing you.

And a wall at Georgetown University, perhaps painted by some optimistic undergrad for a struggling roommate does the same:

Seriously, this is a good one. Now on to the keg parties.

Seriously, this is a good one. Now on to the keg parties.

Some signs are a good reminder of caution (while also being very creepy); this sign in South Carolina is a good example:

Can I get the URL for that, please?

Can I get the URL for that, please?

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):

I don't know why, but I have a feeling that these pies were fantastic.

I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that these pies were fantastic.

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:

The cool thing is that you get to decide what that remarkable thing is.

The cool thing is that you get to decide what that remarkable thing is.

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):

Seriously: fuck it!

Seriously: fuck it!

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.

One comment on “Signs of life

  1. Tara says:

    I LOVED this! I smiled all the way through it. And might start looking for “signs” to add to your collection. Thanks so much for sharing

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