When I first heard the phrase, my reaction was, “Oh my, too true, and what a way to put it.” A little research reveals the original version to be:
“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions” and is attributed to Ellen Glasgow, an American novelist.
When looked at that way, one would never want to be in a rut. So how do you know, other than by a head and foot stone, when you are in a rut?
A rut can feel like a path as it can include forward movement. With its clear dimensions, and no head or foot stone to stop you, a rut might even look like a path. So how does a path differ from a rut?
Well, how comfortable are you? A rut has few surprises. Perhaps you encounter a pothole here and there but otherwise things move along. When I visited the ruins of Pompeii in 2012, it was fascinating to discover that the wagon wheels had created ruts in the stone streets of Pompeii. Wow! If you were going to the bakery or the baths, best to make sure you chose the right set of ruts. Or was it a path?
Other than Ms. Glasgow’s elegant description above, we still don’t have an answer. Let’s imagine a path. Thinking of a path conjures up a different vision than of a rut. A rut is “embedded” in the ground, and a path lies more on top. The image of a rut conjures up mud, dirt, a stuckness – like stone ruts your wagon wheel would never get out of! A path is a way made clear by those who have gone before us. A path is a trail to lead us to our destination.
What is that destination? Do you know? Bakery or baths? Will the path you are on take you there? Are you on a path or in a rut? Can you tell? Paths begin to resemble ruts the more they are used. Did you select a path in the beginning, only to discover it became a rut? Is the path taking you into or out of the forest? What if you don’t want to be where the path ends?
Then you must strike your own way. As much as we would like a formula, a recipe, a path to success — the only way to have one is to make it for ourselves. We can learn from others and get a strong start following a path, and then we must strike out on our own, so that the path never becomes a rut. Our path will never be a rut as long as we are exploring, learning, pushing our own boundaries, upsetting our rhythm and learning and growing. That’s the way I’ll choose so as not to allow my path to become a rut defined by a head and foot stone.