“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:13–14).”
The desert sun, blistering and merciless, beats down on the Traveler. He pauses, shielding his eyes with one hand as he scans the horizon. The dry, searing wind raises another dust cloud. Somewhere—untold miles ahead—his destination lies waiting.
He takes a frugal sip of tepid water from his canteen, soothing his parched throat. He must conserve his supply—hasty gulps could be his undoing in the wilderness.
He reaches inside his tunic for the ancient map. The tanned leather is as supple as silk after years of use, handed down from his father and his father’s father. The intricate chirography has faded over time, and he squints at the faint patterns, coaxing the reluctant hues to divulge his route.
An unexpected voice interrupts his concentration. Startled, the Traveler clutches the map to his chest and pivots to face the newcomer.
“Need some company?” The newcomer’s smile is broad, his desert-roughened voice hoarse but clear. He glances at the map in the Traveler’s grip, intrigued. “Where’d you get that?”
The Traveler recovers from his surprise and smiles at his newfound companion. “Company’s always welcome. Are you bound for the Oasis, too?”
The other nods enthusiastically, and the Traveler remembers the crumpled map in his fist. He relaxes his grip and holds it out for the other to see. “I’ve had this map for years. It’s a family heirloom, handed down from generation to generation.”
“You’re using the same map as your grandparents?” The easy smile fades from his companion’s face, replaced by good- natured skepticism. No disrespect, but isn’t that just a little . . . old-fashioned?”
The Traveler laughs as he smooths the weathered fabric. “To be honest, the markings are pretty faded. It’s not always easy to interpret. But it’s worth the effort—the map’s a reliable guide.”
His companion takes a deep breath, searching for the right words. He’s concerned but doesn’t wish to offend. “No, what I mean is—there’s many ways to find the Oasis. Hanging on to outdated maps can be a little … restrictive. It’s a new day; maybe it’s time for new maps.”
The Traveler smiles; his dry lips feel stretched. “This map’s never let anyone in my family down. Maybe I don’t understand every detail, but it’ll guide me to the Oasis.”
“To each his own.” The newcomer shrugs. His eyes light up as he catches sight of something over the Traveler’s shoulder. “Excuse me—I think my ride’s arrived.”
He steps around the Traveler as an enormous tumbleweed bears down on them. The Traveler tightens his grip on the map and scrambles out of the tumbleweed’s path. His companion inexplicably throws himself into its thorny embrace and is carried off.
“New maps for a new generation …” His cheery voice fades as the tumbleweed rolls on its way.
The Traveler watches him disappear, perplexed. He glances at his map, studying the timeworn patterns and comparing them to the hazy mountains in the distance.
Satisfied, he resumes his trek across the desert.
Not long after, he spies a cluster of cacti, spiny arms held stiffly aloft. A single flower adorns the tallest cactus, and the Traveler spots a young woman sitting cross-legged in its shade, shielding herself from the scorching sun and arid wind.
“Another pilgrim, bound for the Oasis.” She salutes him with an upraised canteen before downing a hearty swig. She grins as she screws the lid back into place. “Which route are you taking, friend?”
The Traveler pauses in the shadow of the tallest cactus, mirroring her action with his own canteen. His moistened lips don’t feel as cracked as he returns her smile. “The same route I’ve been on since childhood.” He shows her the map.
The young woman runs a gentle finger over its soft surface. Her eyes widen. “I used to have one just like this,” she enthuses, handing the map back to the Traveler. “But I traded it in. They say if you don’t change maps every so often, you risk becoming narrow-minded. I make a point of trading for a different map every three years or so.”
The Traveler looks perplexed. He glances from the woman’s sincere face to the map in his hands. “A different map every three years? How do you know whether or not they’ll lead you to the Oasis?”
She gets to her feet, smiling easily as another swarm of tumbleweeds approaches. “It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.” She leaps into the nearest tumbleweed, giving the Traveler a friendly wave as she is carried off.
Alarmed, he consults the map and races after her, waving his arms. “Don’t go that way—you’re heading straight for Dry Gulch! There’s nothing there but rattlesnakes and scorpions!”
“That’s just your interpretation.” Her voice fades as the tumbleweeds reel on.
The Traveler slows to a halt. He consults the map again and his heart sinks. A sere wind tousles his hair as he stares after the tumbleweeds. They plunge over the edge of a precipice and disappear from sight.
The Traveler stands motionless, arms hanging loose at his sides. He glances over his shoulder at the cactus, as if hoping the spiny succulent could explain or offer comfort.
He takes another sip from his canteen and turns to face the distant mountains. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve, squinting at the map. Satisfied, he tucks it into his tunic and resumes his dogged trek.
“No turning back,” he says to the cactus as he passes. “No turning back.”