When I was six years old and K-Mart was still a blossoming business, I lost my parents in the department store. Likely distracted by my surroundings, I lost the two people who, if parental contracts existed, probably would’ve included some sort of “we promise not to lose you while shopping” clause. What I mean is, I got myself lost. Probably deciding to hide in clothing racks or seek out the toys I’d beg my parents to buy.
Through teary-eyes, I thought I found my dad. So certain it was him, I reached up, took his hand, and started chatting about mommy’s whereabouts. Only when I looked up, I was startled to see an equally shocked face that was definitely not my dad. I quickly let go of his foreign hand and ran away, eventually stumbling into my parents who were scouring the store for me. I was terrified.
I didn’t like getting lost.
But I was so damn good at it.
Eighteen years later, I still have a reputation amongst my friends and family as Person Most Likely to Lengthen a Journey. The least requested driver on road trips—both short and long. The one whose “sense of direction” isn’t requested on a hike in the middle of the woods. The one who’s kicked out of the driver’s seat, who’s frequently told to pass the phone off to someone else when directions are given. Always told to bring a GPS. Always told to call when I arrive. Always told to pay better attention to my surroundings. Always guided away from following my directional “instinct.”
When I moved to a new city after graduation, I was nervous about driving. It didn’t matter that this city was only one hour from my hometown or that I’d been there a million and one times on class trips or shopping adventures or visits to see my older sister. It didn’t matter that my friends considered this place to be familiar, that they could walk the busy streets without a compass, map, or even eyes probably.
For awhile, I’d managed to talk my sister into accompanying me on driving trips, tempting her with free chai tea lattes or a promise to make her dinner. And for awhile, she came along, serving as a living, breathing GPS.
Like a stray kitten, I was forced out on my own a bit prematurely, which is to say on my first solo driving trip, I got very lost. Not having a cellphone plan meant Siri could not guide me home. This led to some serious in-car panic. Eventually, I was forced to pull into a Tim Horton’s, where I bought a hot chocolate I didn’t want, and stole wifi while I looked up a map. I was supposed to be meeting a friend for dinner at 6:30. I think by 7:15 she thought I was dead.
But I survived.
And I’ve continued to survive, paying attention to right turns, street names, which gas station leads to which road. Restaurants are focal points, Tall hotels have become beacons, my own personal light houses. I’ve continued to survive, but I’ve also continued to be late for dinners and coffee dates and everything else that requires a start time. I get lost going into the city, I get lost going out.
I am in a perpetual state of being lost.
But the panic has started to die down.
Now, when I’m on a strange street with no recognizable places, rather than crying or hyperventilating, I keep driving. I keep driving until something does look familiar, until I’m a little less lost and a little closer to being on my way.
Recently, I went to visit the new library nestled downtown. My sister told me the name of the street it was on. “You can’t miss it,” she said, “It’s huge.”
Obviously, I missed it. The street. The library. The parking garage. Basically everything I was supposed to be on the lookout for. What should’ve been a fifteen minute drive took me forty-five minutes. When I (finally) arrived, however, I didn’t feel annoyed with the delay. I felt accomplished for having made it on my own.
It was the same sense of accomplishment that had filled me this past Christmas break when I—geographically challenged me—had given directions to one of my friends. I recited them easily, like the lyrics to a song I’ve heard eight hundred times. Only it wasn’t like that at all. Because unlike with song lyrics, I got everything right!
And later, when she looked at me with confusion, asking when I got so good at directions, all I could do was smile.
I’m 23 years old. I have time. So much of it. And with gas prices being as low as they are, detours really don’t matter as much as I once convinced myself they did. In fact, I’m coming to find they’re actually useful. Because with each time I get lost, I’m discovering new ways to arrive at my destination. Sure, these routes are longer, but not unnecessarily so the way I once thought.
Wrong turn after wrong turn eventually leads me to the right street. Now, when I find myself totally lost, I don’t dash to the nearest Tim Horton’s and binge eat a 6-pack of Timbits while I desperately search Google Maps. I keep driving. And with each detour, I learn more about the city whose geography used to scare me. And with each lost moment, I’m ensuring I’ll be a little less lost next time. With each discovery of a new street, there is one less street I don’t know. I keep driving.
I’m trying to apply this logic to my life. To not panic about time, about reaching goals by certain ages, to not care that my journey might be slower than the car next to me, to accept that to be found, you must first be lost. I’m trying to remember that with each detour, I learn more about my surroundings, I become better for the next time around. I try to remember that I know more now than I did six months ago.
Most importantly, I try to remind myself that all roads lead to Rome. Or in this case, the library. Or in the case of real life, exactly where you’re meant to be.
When did I get so good at directions?
When I went out on my own. When I had to learn to get myself home.