“To Be Lost is to Live”

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The other day my father sent me an e-mail sharing his horoscope. At the time I found it intriguing but little did I know just how fitting it would be.

“Never to get lost is not to live,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. In fact, she says that not knowing how to get lost is unhealthy. These are useful ideas to consider right now, Virgo. It will probably do you good to get at least semi-lost. As you wander around without a map or compass, I bet you will stumble upon important teachings. At the same time, I hope you will put some thought into how you’re going to get lost. Don’t just leave it to chance. Make sure there’s a method in your madness.”

If only he, and astrology.com, knew just how relevant that horoscope blurb was, because the other day I got lost.

I’ve always been a fairly independent person. And I’ve always relished the feeling of being out on my own, facing new adventures, having time to place my thoughts and space to meet the unknown. But getting lost really is a challenging and eye-opening experience.

As I wandered through the windy streets of Grenoble, on a quest to buy art supplies, I started to look around at the unfamiliar and soon realized I didn’t quite have my bearings. Actually I was lost.

Much like learning a language, I started off energized and approached it as a challenging game. “Yay! Adventure time! I’ll learn my way around Grenoble! I’m independent and this is fun!” Thirty minutes later I was singing a different tune. As each old, gray, building started to look the same and the cobblestone streets fused into a blob of intersecting paths, the irrational panic settled in. “I’ve been down this street before. No, wait I haven’t. Yes I have!…And I’ve been going in circles. I’m never getting out of this clever labyrinth! Adventure time my ass! This is so NOT fun!”

It wasn’t until I embraced the moment and gave in to my lack of bearings that the panic subsided and I began to see where I was. I was in FRANCE. In France with nowhere specific to be and nothing but time and a beautiful day on my side. I could wander down that unknown street and relish in the small savory moments of life- like colorful ukuleles hanging in the shop window with just the right lighting, or the little old lady intimately transfixed by a pair of shoes through the window- boy do the French love to window shop. With new-found clarity I followed my visual breadcrumbs (an important tool for the directionally challenged) back to my destination.

Along the way I stopped in the square surrounded by ancient buildings and an enthusiastic fountain, and felt overwhelmed with happiness. I’m in France. I’m living in France. Will anywhere else ever feel normal? Will I actually get used to the idea of living abroad?

Getting lost came at an appropriate time as it’s appropriate for where I am in my life right now. As I reach a quarter century, move to a new location, strip myself of all defaults of my identity (my language, my job, my friends, my security blankets), I realized it’s ok to get lost. It’s ok to be lost. It’s in these spaces and these places where we can find things we wouldn’t expect- the beautiful and bizarre- and whether we end up on the original path or a new one, we come out a little bit more savvy and self-aware.

As my dad said, “Lo, tho it may be Virgo, it is relevant to you. I liked the title “To never get lost is to Never live” or maybe, “To be lost is to live”.

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Ending Where It Began

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Spring has finally sprung and with it comes many changes. One of the biggest being the end of my teaching program and the beginning of an exciting but uncertain next step- self employment (more on that later).

It is quite fitting that we had our last hurrah and said some goodbyes in Besancon. This is the city where it all began seven months ago- as we filtered into a small auditorium, assistants from all over the world, confused, tired, nervous and excited about the months to come.

It was surreal as we checked in to the same hotel we did seven months ago, danced the night away at the same rum bar, and satisfied our bready breakfast needs at the same cafe the next morning. There was a sense that no time had passed and that we were not saying final goodbyes as we parted.

But here it is already- the end. Time really does fly. And as it breezes past, were often left wondering, “where the hell did it go?” My dad once said that life is like a freight train- slowly working up to speed and gaining momentum, going faster and faster until it reaches it’s final destination. Might sound like a bit of a downer thing to say, but it stuck with me in that I need to make the most of the now. 

This past week filled itself with a whirlwind of emotions as I finished classes I would never have again, said goodbye to people I might not ever see again  and felt the ache of distance as I watched my former city suffer from unthinkable explosions and fearing for my friends- all set against the backdrop of long awaited warm, sunny, spring. My emotional turmoil was calmed by the well being of my friends, the strength of my city, the appreciation of my own well being, and the knowledge that out of darkness and change springs new beauty.

I cannot slow down time and I cannot change the ending of things, but I can appreciate the memories I’ve made, value what I have now and look forward, unafraid, to the unknown ahead.

Easier said than done, but it’s worth a shot.