Getting Lost

road closed - detourKeeping my bearings while driving in Boston is a challenge for me. Raised in the Midwest, where most roads are clearly signed and laid out in a North-South-East-West grid, I’m often at a loss in Boston’s unmarked, winding labyrinth of streets and alleys.

There are actually parts of the city I don’t even attempt driving by myself. Years ago, I used to say that the way I got to West Roxbury, a suburb of Boston several towns away from where I live, was to get in the car and have my husband drive me there. I marveled at the complex route, with turns, rotaries, and unfamiliar streets he had learned. I can now say with pride that I know not just one but two routes to drive myself to West Roxbury. But, at the time, getting there alone was beyond me.

By the way, I don’t have a GPS in my car or a navigational app on my phone – and I may get one of these technologies after my recent experience getting lost. But, for now, when I’m going to an unfamiliar place, I get detailed directions with landmarks, use Map Quest, or study a traditional map ahead of time to get the lay of the land. Properly prepared, I am relatively calm and confident, and actually enjoy going somewhere new.

I didn’t expect to need directions or a map the night I set out for Logan Airport to pick up my husband and daughter from their late-night flight. I was confident of getting to the airport without incident because I know the signs to watch for and the lanes to stay in very well.

And, I was on course until, halfway to the airport, I passed under the Prudential Center and traffic cones forced me off the turnpike. Remembering that sometimes the Pike was closed for bridgework and repairs at night, I tried to stay calm and watch for the detour signs that would guide me back to the Pike and on to Logan Airport. Despite my efforts to be calm, there was no denying that my anxiety was on the upswing. Downtown Boston is one of those areas I have only a nodding familiarity with, it was late at night, and I was unsure of where I was going.

I asked Spirit for help to be alert for the detour signs, to make my way carefully, to handle the situation calmly. Up ahead, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing rather vaguely to East 90. I turned down the street I thought I was supposed to use – but it was a one-way going the wrong way. After a quick u-turn, I tried again – another wrong street. Now, I wasn’t even sure how to get back to the sign I’d first seen. I was lost.

Eventually, I approached a cab driver and asked for help. “Turn left, then left again, go two lights, go right, down the road, you’ll see a big sign for the airport.” I didn’t think I could remember all the turns, so I asked him to repeat the directions a few times. Finally, he said, “Follow me.” At a certain point, he pulled over and pointed down the street. “Straight down this road, past some lights, you’ll see the signs for Logan Airport.” Noting my nervousness, he reiterated, “Big signs for Logan Airport! Straight ahead!”

I thanked him and started down the street, looking for the big signs that said “Logan Airport.” There were no such signs. Soon, I was in a new neighborhood and knew I had to have missed something. I was still lost and didn’t know how to find my way back. I had the surreal feeling of being in the middle of the classic joke where the couple driving in the New England countryside gets lost and asks a farmer for directions. After pondering, the farmer shakes his head slowly and says, “You can’t get there from here…” At that moment, I wasn’t at all sure I was going to be able to get there from here – wherever “here” was!

Finding a bar that was still open, I went in and asked for help. One of the customers started describing how to locate the entrance to the airport tunnel. When he got to the part about the signs for Logan Airport, I explained that I had already been down this street looking for signs, but hadn’t seen any. Another customer quietly interjected, “Those are kind of small signs, aren’t they, Jim? They just have the picture of an airplane on them. I think they’re painted green.” As the directions progressed, it also came out that the signs were on the side of the road, not hanging overhead as I’d pictured them. Okay, maybe that had been the problem – I had been looking for big signs overhead with words on them, not small signs on the side of the street with pictures.

Thanking the people in the bar, I set off carefully, eventually finding the signs and getting to the airport. All was well, though I was riddled with nervous adrenaline!

Getting lost can teach us many spiritual lessons, and I experienced them all that night: asking for help, attempting to stay calm in the face of fear, depending on the kindness of strangers, feeling lost and ultimately finding your way. Trusting the cab driver’s “Follow me” was a leap of faith, as was walking into a bar at one o’clock in the morning in an unfamiliar neighborhood!

But, the lesson that stands out the most for me from that night came from watching for the signs to guide me. Though the signs to help me on my journey were there, following them wasn’t a clear process. I misread one and expected another to look a certain way. I also thought I’d find the signs in a particular place, and when they weren’t there, initially missed them completely.

Whether we’re making a decision about a job, choosing a life partner, picking a new place to live, or checking in with Spirit about whether our life is on track, we sometimes ask Spirit for signs to assure us we’re on the right path, to point the way. And, I believe Spirit responds. But I think that sometimes we miss the signs. Maybe we see them but don’t follow them correctly or we miss them completely because we’re expecting them to look different.

At the first moment of deviation from the sign we expect to receive, we can become rattled and lose our way. We get thrown off, confused, and can question if we’re on the right road at all. We forget to look to the side instead of to the front, to be aware of the obscure places where the signs might be.

“Expect the unexpected” is a helpful way to keep our senses open and alert for the guidance Spirit offers. Looking for the obvious next step, the most likely place a sign will appear, could be limiting us from receiving what Spirit is offering.

I do believe that the cab driver who told me to look for the “big signs” was truly trying to help me. He read my anxiety, and in an attempt to assure me that all would be well, he exaggerated the “you can’t miss it” factor. On our journeys, we need to be ready to let people help us, even if their help isn’t perfect, to take some leaps of faith, to allow the trip to take a few detours along the way.

And, of course, we need to be as prepared as we can be. Any suggestions about where I might find myself a GPS?

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