In physical, spiritual worlds, getting lost can be an advantage
By JEANNETTE BATZ
If you give me directions into a subdivision, youll have to write another set to get me back out. If Im absolutely sure its a left at the light, my husbands 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 youre 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, Ive 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 lifes path, I receive vicarious wisdom. Every time I admit Im 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 Ill be told that the very path Ive 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. Im just driving, wind in my hair and the radio on.
Confessions easy: I just think up some sins Ive committed and pick the ones that sound right, appropriately humble but not unacceptable in anyones eyes. Wouldnt dream of confessing the sin of inauthenticity; of contriving this very confession according to my egos needs and the worlds standards; of failing to trust God enough to simply blurt out my hearts regrets.
So what made me think my ability to orient myself spiritually was any better than my sense of geographic direction? Nothing at all. Its just that vulnerabilitys easier to admit in the physical realm. Anyway, the physical realm nails you: Lose your way, and you dont show up where youre supposed to be.
In less tangible dimensions of life, its easier to fake it, act like you know where youre going and just keep turning right.
If youre driving in circles, wholl know?
Jeannette Batz is a staff writer for The Riverfront Times, an alternative newspaper in St. Louis.
National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999