Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On Feeling Lost

The first time I remember being lost I was four years old.  I was at a kiddie amusement park where small metal boats went around in circles and technicolor cars beeped and made a vroom vroom sound when the toddler aboard pushed a little red button on the console.  But it wasn’t the bright lights and the peppy beeping that drew my attention.  I was drawn to a horse.  A faded metal horse.  It was one of those playground essentials made of solid steel and mounted on a spring so that the rider could rock back and forth.  This one was covered in faded black and white paint with a red bridle.  It didn’t do much,  but I climbed onto its saddle and for a few minutes I was a cowgirl or a jockey or an elegant equestrian, I don’t remember which.  At some point I finally looked up and realized that I was missing my parents.  They were nowhere.  I saw nothing familiar.  Panic welled up inside.  It lasted for a split second before my mother materialized out of the crowd and scooped me up.  The whole scene probably lasted no more than a couple of minutes, but I clearly remember that feeling of being alone, not knowing what do or where to go.

I have felt lost many times since then – in towns and cities and foreign countries – but I have come to realize that being lost isn’t always about geography.  At least, not the geography of a physical landscape.  I think it is just as easy, and much more common, to spend one’s time feeling lost in mental geography.  Life is a series of decisions, either conscious or unconscious and it isn’t always easy to figure out which decision to make.  When I was younger, I was nearly overwhelmed by the feeling that every choice I made would have a deep and long lasting impact on my life.  Some did, but I have mostly forgotten the majority of the problems that I stressed over at the time.  The choices that truly changed my life were the ones that I made in the face of unforeseen circumstances – taking a leap of faith, facing fears, letting go of negative experiences.
So maybe life isn’t about having all of the answers.  Maybe life is about looking up from your horse and realizing that you might be lost, but you will figure it out.  I was once lost in the Paris subway.  I knew the name of my stop and got off the train in the right place, but once I was off the train I had to make my way through a maze of tunnels and a crowd of bustling Parisians.  The only French word I recognized at the time was sortie.  I followed the exit signs and crossed my fingers that the Eiffel Tower would be there when I reached the surface.  It was.