How Do You Get There from Here?

  Some of us are born with an internal GPS of sorts. We have a natural sense of direction. And we backtrack like we’re a fugitive on the run, able to retrace steps and return home because we instinctively memorize landmarks, street signs, and pay attention to the ‘Do Not Enter’ warnings. 

Then, there’s some of us who have two left hands. We tell the driver, “Turn right.” Then when the car begins to veer in one direction, we begin screaming, “No! No! My other right!” And the GPS is our best friend. We program it just to hear her cool British accent. Even when we’re heading to work. The same three minute drive we do daily. Just to be on the safe side.


Then…there are those of us, myself included, who THINK we know where we’re going, in fact, we are SURE as the nose on our face, but when it comes down to it, we are the cause of many a delay, because we refuse to admit we’re lost. And don’t even mention that stubborn bone that has an aversion to asking for directions. For us, the GPS is our worst nightmare. We spend more time hearing the word “recalculating” than we’re willing to admit. And the voice behind the turn list is like a bad radio station when you’re in the mountains, and the reception refuses to allow anything but 80’s music. And we tune out because we refuse to hear Kool and the Gang’s “Celebrate Good Times, Come On” one more time. Because there’s nothing to celebrate yet. We still have another eighteen hours of driving to go. If all goes well. From this point forward. Forward is our word of preference since North, South, East and West have eluded us in the past.

I still remember the time my best friend and I exited the Palace in Auburn Hills at the end of my first live concert. We has just seen Sting, and as we walked out to the parking lot, we were still giddy, bumping shoulders as we sang to each other, “Don’t stand so, Don’t stand so close to me.” Little did we realize that “Every step” we took was one step further away from our car. We arrived at D5, the exact spot we were sure our car should appear, and for several minutes argued over whether the car was stolen or someone was playing a poorly timed joke on us. In the end, we realized that we exited the building on the exact opposite side and the two huge parking lots mirrored each other. Yeah, this would be one of those times when paying attention to the sign on the door where you enter just wasn’t a priority. We were more caught up in finding our seats and seeing if we could get a little closer to the stage to get a better glimpse of our teenage heart throb.

On our sixth anniversary, hubby and I took the plunge and did our first overnight trip away from our girls. We dropped off the three (at the time) girls with my parents in Michigan and flew over to Utah to explore Arches National Park and Lake Powell. During our first evening in Arches, we spent several hours setting up our tent and campsite. Yes. These were the pre-RV days. In fact, that first night, some guy in a nearby tent snored louder than my father, and no matter how many times I said, “Shhhhhh,” he refused to keep it down. That was the last time I slept without ear plugs. But I digress.

So that first evening, we decided to do a short hike after dinner since the sun hadn’t set. We carried only half a water bottle and began trotting down a dusty trail, admiring the pretty cactus flowers and cool rock piles set out to mark the trails, called cairns. After several minutes of hiking, off in the distance, we saw our first arch. Excited and delusional, we blindly headed in that direction. The sun continued to lower on the horizon, but we argued that it wasn’t that far away. We could return to our campsite with plenty of time to spare. We joyfully climbed under the arch, laid on our backs to look up at the arch, and climbed back down on the other side.

The size of our shadows grew larger and I think I initiated the return hike. “Babe, it’s getting dark. We should backtrack and head to our tent.”

“Let’s not back track. Let’s just finish the trail, and we’ll probably end up at the beginning. That’s how most trails work. They’re circular in nature and we’re definitely past the halfway point by now.” At least that’s how I remember the conversation.

Because I know we argued for a few minutes about which route to take. Backtrack or continue on the trail. We went with continue on the trail. Unfortunately, the sun set faster and faster and before we found our campsite, it was dark. In fact, the twilight sky made everything look the same and neither of us could tell if we moved closer to or further away from our tent. And civilization. There was no one in site and no signs that read, “Campgrounds—this way.” That would have been helpful.

Panic set in and I began to think we were hiking in circles. Our water ran out long ago. The emergency waterproof blanket that compacts into a wallet size Ziploc was back in our supplies pile. In our tent. Back where we’re trying to get. Far far away. And to make matters worse, strange noises began to sound like wild animals wanting to devour us. I was scared. And argumentative. The best combination for marriage-building moments. NOT!

I was actually to the point of tears and moved from anger to hysteria, worried that we would never see our kids again. They would find us dead in the national park. We’d be on the headlines. And my parents were gonna kill me. Even though I’d be dead. They were so gonna kill me for being so irresponsible. Hubby had to shake me to get me to calm down. My emotional outbursts were doing nothing to help the situation or his train of thought. So unable to handle the pressure of the moment, I “ran away” from hubby, off the trail, up a hill, throwing my perfected adult version of a temper tantrum. 

 Miracle of all miracles ensued. At the top of this hill, I saw the light. Literally! The headlights from a camper shone in our direction, and I didn’t care if I crushed a cactus or trampled the last green plant in Utah. I screamed and ran in the direction of the headlights. Hubby followed. We were rescued! Was all I could think! The campers were chilling, enjoying the stars when we barged onto their site, apologetic and thankful with a mouthful of words they probably didn’t care for since we just interrupted their quiet evening. 

When we arrived at our tent shortly afterward, we never determined who was “right,” or who had the best approach, or who should have followed who in the crisis moment. What we did do was cry out a prayer of thanks to the maker of the stars who gave us a second chance. To live another day. To plan better the next time around. And to see our kids again.

Two days ago, my sister’s family joined us to venture out to Lake Lanier State Park for a day of kayaking and biking. We split up so that everyone had a chance to do each activity. While we were kayaking, a sense of direction in the big open lake wasn’t necessary. We just needed to slow down when the big speed boats whizzed by and think steady thoughts while the wake rocked our kayaks over the waves.

When it was my turn to bike, my third daughter, my sister and her hubby pulling the trailer with our two youngest joined me to bike into the park. The ups and downs on the trail were really steep, making it especially difficult for Tracy who had an extra seventy pounds to pull behind him. So we decided to bike on the road. For the most part, we followed my brother-in-law, letting him lead, and pedaled on this perfectly sunny day that happened to be my birthday.

Well, we had biked for awhile and now our weary legs were giving way. Well, mine were. So I announced, “Hey, let’s head back. Should be back track or look for another way to find the exit.” This dilemma arose quite often I noticed.

Baby sis’s hubby says, “I think I can figure out how to get back without backtracking.” Maybe it’s a guy thing.

So we pedal and pedal, up and down hilly roads, and turn in the direction whenever we see a sign that points to the “Exit.” Until we get to one intersection and we couldn’t agree which road the Exit sign pointed too. I thought one. Tracy thought another.

“He has a pretty good sense of direction,” my sister suggests. “And you…well, let’s just follow Tracy.”

Reluctantly, I gave in, and within minutes, the bridge to the park entrance was in sight. He was right. I was…not quite right. Okay, I admit. I was wrong.

I knew where I wanted to get to. I knew which direction I came from. But if I was honest with myself, I had to admit, I DID NOT know exactly how to get there. And I needed help. And if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from all my years of mishaps and wanderings—it’s okay to ask. And if the person you ask has a good sense of direction, it’s even more important that you listen. And listen carefully. In fact, write it down if you have a transient memory like me.

And in the end, it actually doesn’t even matter where you came from. Although people ask that question all the time. “Where you from?” as if that defines you or determines your value. The truth is, we don’t always have a say when it comes to where we come from. Our history. Our heritage. Our background. The past is out of our control. We can’t change it. But we get to decide if our past can change us. And it should. To an extent.

But in the end, we need to look forward. If you’re hanging with Santa, that might mean looking South. If you’re chilling with the penguins, that probably means head North. No matter the compass sign, ask yourself if you know where you’re going, and if you know how to get there. Today. Five years from now. Ten and twenty years from now. Do you know your final destination? Do you know where you want to find yourself? And then make a plan. Get out a map. Work backwards and determine your course and your timeline.

And expect roadblocks along the way. Life is full of rainy seasons, storms, and tsunamis. We all get wet, time and time again. But when the sun comes back out, pull out your map, and get back on the road. And don’t forget, it’s okay to ask for directions. Remember to take extra water. And a flashlight can’t hurt. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride.

So what about you? Do you have a stellar sense of direction or are you like me, still confused about the L-shaped trick to remember which hand is left and which is right? Do you know where you’re going? And do you know how to get there?

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