The great southern rock band the Allman Brothers are finally reaching the end of their long road, recently announcing that the shows they play this fall will most likely be their last. No question in their varied set lists they will play the classic ‘One Way Out,’ a ramped up blues shuffle that tells the tale of a man trapped in the apartment of a woman whose partner has unexpectedly returned. Here the first stanza:
Ain’t but one way out baby, Lord I just can’t go out the door.
Ain’t but one way out baby, and Lord I just can’t go out the door.
Cause there’s a man down there, might be your man I don’t know.
Like many of the great blues songs, the lyrics dance around a double entendre. The truth is there is one way out for all of us. The road we take to that ‘door’ will vary in length and quality, in challenge and celebration, in light and laughter. But the end of the road is always the same, and the words of the song ring true – there is one way, and only one way, out.
I was reminded of this yesterday, in one of those unexpected flashes of insight (you DO get shown the light in the strangest of places). After an early evening run walking up the hill from the track back towards my house. At the top of the hill I looked up only to see a typical ‘One Way’ sign, its stark black and white image staring back at me knowingly, arrow pointing me in the direction of home (in this case YES direction home).
We travel life in one direction. From past to the future, moving forward in time. Behind us is what happened yesterday, last year, when we were young. Ahead? Who knows, but the future lies there with all of its uncertainty and promise, its hope and expectation. We are ever poised between the two, living in present moments that come and go almost without our knowing. But we all walk on a one way street.
In the Mishnah, the classic rabbinic text from the second century CE we find the following: Know from where you have come, to where you are going, and to Whom you will one day make an accounting. (Avot 3:1) The mishnah teaches that keeping these ideas in our mind will enable us to live a sin free life. Perhaps also in the ancient statement there can be found a sense of humility – we are all the same, on the same road, heading in the same direction, the most exalted and the most humble, the highest and the lowest, the richest and the poorest. Led Zeppelin entitled their late 70s concert film ‘the Song Remains the Same.’ I would say it differently – for each of us the song is actually different; it is the sign that remains the same.