Get Lost…or Not…

My cross country coach delighted in misdirection.

Three days a week, she rounded us up at the crack of dawn for a workout at the Dover Horse Trails, a network of paths leading through woodland, field, and Florida scrub at different stages. (If you don’t know what Florida scrub is, I’m sorry, but I won’t try to explain it.) I had to wear two pairs of socks and wrap my feet in bandages to prevent the dew from soaking through my shoes and socks and leaving gaping blisters on my feet.

Getting lost on those dew-soaked, godforsaken trails was practically a rite of passage for the cross country team. It brought Coach Laura a certain level of sadistic satisfaction. She said that when we got lost, she got to see how far we could really run. (Because, for some reason, no wrong turn led to a shorter route. It was just endless miles of scrub…which you can Google, if you’re so curious.)

Well, I just finished my second week of living in Birmingham. I moved into my apartment on Monday, May 30. And on Tuesday, June 1, I started my summer internship, working as a full time reporter.

Suddenly, not only was I living in a strange city – a strange state, actually – I had to write about a city that consists of five different regions, find my way around it/them for stories, interviews, and photos.

Let me tell you – I have gotten lost a lot in the past week.

I have missed turns, taken wrongs turns…made more mistakes I won’t talk about because the people who pay for my car insurance read this blog…

And as I miserably blundered my way through Birmingham traffic for so long I heard the same song play on the radio three times, I could not help but dolefully reflect on the philosophical implications of getting lost.

It is easy to have a devil-may-care attitude about getting lost when you have a safety net. Namely, Madam GPS. I apologize to her when I miss turns after she has patiently informed me that my turn is one mile…three quarters of a mile…half a mile…a quarter of a mile…900 feet…500 feet…250 feet…100 feet in back of you and two lanes away, you bumbling idiot.

Actually, she has extraordinary patience. (Which is why I wish all people were like phones: calm and easy to put away. There’s never any drama with a phone.) But it also makes it easier for me; I know that if I make a mistake, she will almost instantly compensate for it and steer me onto the right path.

I know that we grow by making mistakes (which is probably what Coach Laura was getting at, in addition to her perverse thrill) but we shouldn’t be careless about it. Mistakes happen so that we can learn how to not make that mistake again.

And yet, I still turn when she says I have 800 more feet to go because I’m not actually paying attention to the street signs.

Which is probably the bigger lesson here: take advantage of the resources you have to prevent yourself from making that stupid mistake.

Heurism is an effective teaching method, but it’s also a dangerous one. Mistakes don’t just affect us. It’s a miracle I haven’t killed someone abruptly turning without my signal or screeching across multiple lanes to get to my exit.

And we should be grateful when we have directions.

Right now, my directions end at the edge of a stage, clutching a diploma – an empty roadmap that assures the world I am qualified to set out on my own, but doesn’t give a single hint about which way I should go. I don’t know if I’ll step left or right or keep going straight. I’ll probably just take a swan dive and land on my face.

But my feet will hit the ground, too, eventually.

I guess we if we use our heads and stop blindly following a robotic voice, we’ll all emerge stronger from our time wandering in the Florida scrub. (Seriously, look it up.)

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