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In physical, spiritual worlds, getting lost can be an advantage


If you give me directions into a subdivision, you’ll have to write another set to get me back out. If I’m absolutely sure it’s a left at the light, my husband’s learned to turn right. At high school speech tournaments, my friends had to find my competition room for me before going on to theirs, lest I spend the final round wandering through the halls.

My failure to comprehend spatial relationships used to cast a pall over new adventures. A working trip to Spain sounds glamorous until you’re lost deep in a barrio, children clinging to the sides of your rental car, not a word of Spanish but hola at your grasp.

Recently, though, I’ve decided that a tendency to get lost is an advantage. Unable to survive on my own with a Trip-tik, I throw myself upon strangers’ mercy. Unable to grasp more than the first leg of the journey they scribble on my napkin, I seek out still more kindness. Invariably, I find it. People love to know the answer, share it, see your eyes light with understanding and receive your thanks.

This is why, in the 22 years since I began driving, I have accumulated thousands more proofs of human kindness than your self-reliant Boy Scout types who squint up at the sun and plot their course. I have been trusted with natives’ shortcuts, heard the dangers of certain intersections, learned the lore of the lakes and bridges where children were conceived, treasure was found or misery led to suicide.

Helplessness works equally well in the spiritual geography. Every time I ask someone how she negotiated a sharp curve in life’s path, I receive vicarious wisdom. Every time I admit I’m lost, somebody arrives to show me a way out.

So why do I keep trying to unfold my own private, unreadable map and take off alone?

The prospect of spiritual direction, for example, terrifies me. If I open my soul that intimately, it will become obvious to the wise spiritual director how woefully un-spiritual I really am. Or I’ll be told that the very path I’ve shunned -- asceticism, maybe, or repetitive devotional practice -- is the only way to reach the next destination. Or it will become apparent that as yet I have no destination. I’m just driving, wind in my hair and the radio on.

Confession’s easy: I just think up some sins I’ve committed and pick the ones that sound right, appropriately humble but not unacceptable in anyone’s eyes. Wouldn’t dream of confessing the sin of inauthenticity; of contriving this very confession according to my ego’s needs and the world’s standards; of failing to trust God enough to simply blurt out my heart’s regrets.

So what made me think my ability to orient myself spiritually was any better than my sense of geographic direction? Nothing at all. It’s just that vulnerability’s easier to admit in the physical realm. Anyway, the physical realm nails you: Lose your way, and you don’t show up where you’re supposed to be.

In less tangible dimensions of life, it’s easier to fake it, act like you know where you’re going and just keep turning right.

If you’re driving in circles, who’ll know?

Jeannette Batz is a staff writer for The Riverfront Times, an alternative newspaper in St. Louis.

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999