Though I have a decent sense of direction, I get lost often. The maps I draw don’t say whether the scene in front of me is at the top of the page, at the bottom, or if I’m presently observing the left or the right margin. Maps’ two dimensions leave me wondering how these buildings spring from this page and what street may cut between the blocks ahead. Lists of lefts and rights and roads’ names and numbers unravel as the center line turns somewhat left and splits, both ways labeled at an angle I can’t read. Signs disappear when you’re moving. Lanes become turn-only, and you can’t turn back.
Sometimes I rely on figuring it all out once I get started—the proper course does occasionally become clear, after all—and I foolishly believe people who utter too much and add, “Anyway, it’s not hard to get there.”
Everyone else has an iPhone to guide them, and its voice speaks without judgment. I don’t mind humbling myself to ask directions, but the instructions I receive often baffle me. Then I won’t ask again. People never insist I repeat what they just said to assure I got it right, and they ought to. It’s simple enough to them, and I don’t want to make further fuss.
The world seems less complicated for other people. They don’t think twice about traveling to strange, unknown, and terrifying locales. Their faith outpaces mine, and, where I’d like to anticipate every twist—to picture it and two other possibilities besides—others love improvisation and the spots you find when you mean to go somewhere else. “Getting lost,” they tell me, “is half the fun.”
I heard an episode of Radiolab discussing Australian aborigines who embed directions deep in their language. You don’t just leave the house but leave it in a northwesterly direction, and they have a word for that. They have 80 words for directions, and instead of “How are you?” they say, “Where are you going?” I wish I could answer. For me, such certainty would be magic akin to being home everywhere.
The moment I begin to think, I begin to be lost—second and third guessing doom me most—and comfort flees like steam. It’s my directional deficit, which means I can’t borrow knowing, can’t look to be other people, won’t learn to speak Aboriginal Australian in the time left to me. The problem is in me and not the world, and I must own my bewilderment.
Leaving early helps, and, even if I arrive an hour before necessary, at least I’m there and not making torturous revisions. The idle time I earn is solace I appreciate. “Have you been waiting long?” my companion may ask. “No,” I lie and feel momentarily like someone who arrives just where he should be when he should be with nonchalant finesse.
Perhaps I’m more lost inside than out. My waywardness may all be in my head, a matter of shutting out doubt or pretending better. I’d love to believe everyone is like me and stuck without a bird’s eye view in a maze of impossible-to-read alternatives. I’d prefer thinking I’m geographically rather than generally lost. But, as the only map I have is my own, I may never know.