At one of the hip, earthy outdoors stores back in Potsdam they sell Life is Good paraphernalia—the grinning, flat-capped stick figurine who somehow gets his skinny behind up all sorts of mountains and down all sorts of valleys in one piece. There’s one shirt or poster that reads, “Not all who wander are lost.” J.R.R. Tolkien said it first though and I don’t know how he’d feel about it being screen-printed with stick figurines on orange t-shirts worn by upper-class, Subaru-driving environmentalists.
When I first moved to Texas I allowed myself one month with my GPS. I think this was less than generous of me, but what’s done is done. Now I use it whenever I’m going somewhere completely new, but for that one month everything was new, and I would have pulled my car over at every intersection and cried without it. After that month, though, I pulled the plug, stowed it in my glove-compartment, and got used to getting lost.
It was wonderful.
I was still self-employed at the time, so time was something I could spend as freely as I wanted and I wanted it freely. I wandered all over the Metroplex, mostly in search of nothing except my way. And I think I found it, eventually. I’m at home right now, lying on my bed, with an open window to my right, and my roommates stirring around in the living room, so it would seem I found my way.
There were times when I’d cry out of sheer frustration because the vast majority of the DFW Metroplex is acres of subdivisions; anyone who has ever tried to find his way out of a subdivision depending on his innate sense of east, west, and the direction of the sun knows it is about as impossible as telling any one of the sub-divided homes apart from another, which is to say, nearly impossible. I would pound my fist on my steering wheel and yell cuss words in my car at people who knew their way around and weren’t being patient enough with me.
But there were other times when I would make a left turn, when my gut said right, and I would be taken down a lane with a canopy of trees all bowing their heads in welcome like a line of Japanese diplomats. I would return again and again to that wrong turn just to meet those bowing trees again.
Or, to avoid traffic, I would take a short-cut, which was a long-cut more often, but the reward would be finding a park or a subdivision where the houses didn’t all look identical. Never in my life did I ever think that I would call anything about a subdivision a reward, but this is how I make lemonade these days.
Tonight my roommate, the one who knows more than anyone else here what I miss when I talk about New York because she misses all the same things too, stood up and instructed me to put down my writing assignment and go sit at this part of Grapevine Lake she’d found. I thought I knew which part she was talking about. Another roommate and I went last summer in August, when it was above 100 degrees, the water was low, the dirt was red and dry, there was someone’s picnic garbage rotting nearby, and I was sure, beyond any doubt, that my first rattlesnake sighting was going to happen in that moment. I didn’t want to return there. But it was a different place, she insisted, and so I went.
We didn’t get lost on our way there, and only made one wrong turn on our way home (in an attempt to find a way to get there that avoided the highway), but it reminded me of how much I really loved my first few months here, when everything felt new, when every day felt like an adventure, and when getting lost didn’t mean being late or disappointing someone or missing something important.
I am an unfettered soul, I know that. I used to think that it was my nemesis, to always long for freedom and always find myself bound down, but more and more I know that it’s my blessing. I know that not everyone puts away the GPS or makes wrong turns on purpose, whether because they are in too much of a hurry or because they’re too frightened of what they’ll find when they get there.
At breakfast this morning with a friend we talk for a minute about heaven and the new earth, and how it is a place of complete satisfaction, where all the wandering and wishing we waste ourselves on here will be at last whole and nobody can take that from us.
I stood on a fallen log at the lake tonight, my mate standing in front of me, her head thrown back, the wind whipping her short brown hair, and I felt, for one glorious moment that we were practicing for heaven here on earth, unfettered and free.