My Lab Echo and I have just set out for our daily walk down Cundy’s Harbor Road when a red car pulls up alongside me. The driver is a man in his late 60s, and is wearing two or three days of gray stubble around his face.

“Am I going in the right direction?” Mr. Stubble asks.

“That all depends on where you are trying to go,” I pronounce.

Mr. Stubble hits his hand upon the steering wheel and barks, “Does this lead to the main road?”

Recognizing that Mr. Stubble wants to be on his way, that Mr. Stubble has important places to go and important people to meet, I defer from pointing out the wonderful irony of the situation — that he is asking directions from someone who gets lost on loop trails. Instead, I affirm he will reach the main road if he continues in the same direction.

Without saying another word, Mr. Stubble rolls up his window and drives away, heading for certain in a certain direction.

Echo pulls on his leash and my walk resumes. He, too, is certain he knows the way, it seems. As we walk, I ponder Mr. Stubble’s first question and other helpful ways I could have responded.

Mr. Stubble response, Alternative 1

“Am I going in the right direction?” Mr. Stubble asks.

“That’s the question all of us should be asking ourselves every day. I can’t answer it for you, Mr. Stubble. But I do wonder if you have to ask the question at all. Maybe it means you already know the answer. Are you happy with your life, Mr. Stubble? What you have done and what you have left undone? Instead of asking me, take a look at yourself in the rearview mirror and really listen to what the man who stares back at you says.”

Mr. Stubble response, Alternative 2

“Rosebud, Mr. Stubble. Rosebud. Did you ever see the film ‘Citizen Kane’? Well, Charles Foster Kane has all the material wealth that anyone could ever want but as he dies, his final word is “Rosebud.” That’s the name of the sled he loved as a child, Mr. Stubble. I’m sure I don’t know all the ideas the sled symbolizes, but if you think when you die your dying words will be Barbie, or Atari, or Slinky — you’re going in the wrong direction, Mr. Stubble.

Mr. Stubble response, Alternative 3

Mr. Stubble, my poor man, you really are lost! You’re on an island, Mr. Stubble, and if you turn around and keep heading straight, you’ll end up in the ocean. So there really is no alternative but to keep heading in the direction you are going. But Mr. Stubble, let’s define terms here. What do you mean by “main road”? I am standing on the main road. It’s the road I take every day to work, to the grocery store, to all kinds of different places. And it’s the road I always take to return home. It’s the road where I walk my dog and the road where once, OK, twice, my dog roamed away and some nice people down this main road brought him back to me. See, Mr. Stubble, if you want to know where the main road is, why, from my perspective, you’re on it right now!


My walk along my main road came to an end and I thought about Mr. Stubble. I wondered what he did when in 3 miles he reached the “main road” and saw it went left and it went right.

Gregory Greenleaf lives in Harpswell and teaches high school English. He ascribes, prescribes and subscribes to many old-fashioned ideas, but especially Charles Dickens’ observation that “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”