The Upside of Getting Lost

Getting lost is one of the most emotionally exhausting adventures that someone can have.

            Some people seem eternally fated to get lost, despite the help of Google maps, verbal instructions, and written directions. I happen to be one of them.

            My uncanny ability to get myself lost first emerged when I got my driver’s license. If you put me alone in a car, intent on an errand trip in unfamiliar territory, I was bound to get lost. My method of getting lost was always unique: missing the correct turn and having to make a u-turn to come back, getting off on the wrong exit, forgetting an address and creeping through a neighborhood trying to find it. Normally, trying to get un-lost got me more lost than before.

            It got worse this past summer. Literally every time I drove somewhere, I ended up lost. In such situations, I had different methods of getting un-lost: backtracking the way I had come, pulling over and examining the map, or (most frequently) calling my parents for directions.

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         Getting lost is a horrible feeling: utter helplessness, with a load of stupidity, ignorance, childishness, and frustration mixed in. It honestly makes you feel like a total idiot who has just wasted 3 hours of their life looking for a place that simply refuses to be found. 

        My problems with getting lost waned away as I began to drive to school four days a week, and became familiar with the area. I was able to navigate unfamiliar routes, keep my cool, and find my destinations without a problem.

 Or so I thought.

         Then, last week, I was headed to a nearby city for a graduating class meeting, equipped with written and verbal directions. Long story short, taking an unfamiliar route, I got hopelessly lost three times. First, I missed the freeway exit, and had to call for directions to find the correct road. Second, I exited the freeway too early, and got hopelessly lost on a country backroad. Already over an hour late to my meeting, still with no notion of its location, I decided to just go back home. To top it all off, I missed the turn back onto the freeway, had to make a U-turn, and ended up taking a totally different route home than originally intended.

       As I drove home, I had a lot of thinking to do. I wondered, “What was the point of this all? I lost an entire evening doing something that only left me feeling weak, incompetent, and stupid. What was the point of getting lost?”

Then, after awhile, it came to me:

“Whenever someone gets lost, it is always for the purpose of leading them to find something.”

                   Think about it:

Whenever a movie or book begins with a scene where one or more people are lost, what do you expect to happen next? Will they find their way back to their intended destination? Of course not! Instead, their lost feet lead them to find something that sets them on a journey; that introduces the plot of the story.

Think of Bilbo, wandering in the pitch black of the MistyMountain tunnels. Disoriented and blind, with his dwarf companions nowhere to be found, he gropes along the cavern wall… and encounters a small, cold ring of metal.

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“It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit)

That was Find #1. Then, Find #2

“The hobbit jumped nearly out of his skin when the hiss came in his ears, and suddenly he saw the pale eyes sticking out at him.

‘Who are you?’ he said, thrusting his dagger in front of him.

‘What iss he, my preciouss?’ whispered Gollum…

‘I am Bilbo Baggins. I have lost the dwarves and I have lost the wizard, and I don’t know where I am; and I don’t want to know, if only I can get away.’” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit)

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So it was that Bilbo found two things that would change his life forever: a deadly treasure, and the miserable creature lustfully enslaved to it. In that moment, he unleashed from the dark cavern the ring, its temporary keeper, and its fate, and catalyzed a sequence of events that would place the ring in his nephew Frodo’s hands, with the quest of its annihilation on his shoulders. Bilbo kicked the pebble that started the avalanche of Middle Earth’s deliverance.

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So, now, imagine if Bilbo had never been separated from the safety of the dwarf company, and hadn’t fallen into the lonely blackness of Gollum’s cave. The Ring would have stayed hidden, safe in the deep darkness, or worse yet, malicious hands would have found it and used it to plunge Middle Earth into even deeper darkness.

Think about the times you’ve been lost: physically or metaphorically. Typically, we are lost in confusion, pain, guilt, circumstance, and many other things. Many of us feel lost in life; there are so many things we want to do, yet are unable to accomplish. There are so many paths we wanted to follow, but mistakenly whizzed by. Many are lost as to the direction of their life. They were certain of what path they wanted to pursue, and into that pursuit they put all their time, money, and strength, only to find that they were intended for something else.

As a high school senior, I hear a certain question far more often than I’d like:

“So, what do you want to do after you graduate?”

Most people, upon hearing this question, have no idea how to answer. I myself am terribly afraid of choosing a direction and investing years of my life into it, because I’ve known so many people who chose a path, moved, and got a degree, only to end up doing something totally different with their lives. I’m afraid of wasting 4 years of my life gaining something that I’ll eventually forsake.

But would it be a waste?

 

Yes.

 

 It would be just about as much of a waste as Bilbo’s frightening detour into Gollum’s cave.

Listen, fellow traveler: no path that you travel is a waste. Every direction you walk, every detour you take has a purpose. Sometimes, your detours will start an avalanche. Sometimes, they will touch a life. Often, they will do both. Always, they will change you.

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So don’t be afraid of getting lost. When you reach one of Life’s crossroads, yes, seek advice. Yes, pray. Yes, do your research. But, in the end, don’t opt to stay at the crossroads just because you are afraid of getting lost. If your chosen direction leaves you befuddled and lost, there are only two things to do: go forward or go back. You can only sit there for so long. Choose a wise direction, and take it courageously. If several years down the road it is the wrong one, have the humility to turn back and yet the courage to trust that it was not a waste. Return to the crossroads, having touched lives, started avalanches, and learned lessons, and begin to seek a new journey.

As Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of Bilbo’s company, points out in The Hobbit, “There is nothing like looking, if you want something… You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit)

So go on, carrying in your satchel all those things you had to get lost in order to find.

 

And what, you ask, did I find on last week’s detour?

 

 I guess I found this blog post.

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