Friday, October 15, 2010

Lessons to be learned from a terrible sense of direction

I have a terrible sense of direction. If ever there was a driver who should use GPS technology, it is me, but I don’t have a GPS and that’s probably just as well: it forces me to work consistently on improving this deficiency. Still, it’s been a struggle for as long as I can remember.

The past couple of weeks have been particularly egregious. Along with the notorious drive to the Manchester airport with my sister Sarah, there was the event last Friday night when an exit closure in Portland forced us to take a different route off the highway than we normally do, dumping me in an unfamiliar part of the city after dark. Tim not only recognized a street name miles from our destination but also somehow intuited which way the ocean was; taking what felt like a leap of faith, I followed my 12-year-old’s instructions and found myself right where I wanted to be. And there was a very brief (three-mile) wrong-way foray when we were leaving Portland to head home that hardly even merits mention. Then a few days later, my mother and I got a little confused driving to a town north of us for apple picking (and, if I am to be completely honest, driving home from that excursion as well).

The point is not to belabor my horrible sense of direction; I’m well aware of that, and I do what I can to compensate for it. I keep a vigilant eye on landmarks I’m passing when I know I’ll need to retrace my steps, and I pay close attention to the position of the sun when I’m driving in daylight so that at the very least I know whether I’m headed toward the right compass point. Rather, what I’ve come to realize from this recent spate of poor directional decisions is what can be learned, literally and metaphorically, from taking so many wrong turns.

For example, during the Manchester airport debacle, Sarah and I took the wrong exit off a toll road. On toll roads, the exits are far apart, and we realized milliseconds after failing to make the necessary turn what we had done, so we had plenty of time – twelve miles’ or so worth of time – to belabor our error. But the fact is that when you’re on a highway after missing your exit, there is absolutely not a single option other than to proceed forward. Pulling over would be dangerous and pointless; turning around is obviously not possible. Realizing you’ve made a terrible mistake, you simply forge ahead until the opportunity arises to correct it, in the form of the next exit appearing. You can’t sit in your car stewing over your mistake; you have no other viable choice than to stick with the bad decision you’ve made and see it through until the opportunity comes to make a different choice. That’s a good lesson.

Another one is that speed is not necessarily the way to right a wrong. When I used to commute by Peter Pan bus, the driver once commented to me, “I don’t know what’s wrong with all these other drivers. Don’t they realize you can go only as fast as the car in front of you?” Now, I remind myself of that when I’m caught in traffic and getting frustrated. It doesn’t matter if you want to go faster or get there sooner; you’re at the mercy of the car in front of you. Take a deep breath and accept that.

Also this: Many mistakes can be fixed. Not all of them, of course. If you cause an accident, that can’t be fixed. But if you miss your flight, you can catch another flight. If you keep a friend waiting inordinately long, you can apologize profusely and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Changing plans might be inconvenient or even, as in the case of rescheduling a flight, costly. But as the anxiety rises, remind yourself to distinguish between those mistakes that have irreversible consequences and those that do not.

And, finally, perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from getting lost: nothing about arriving matters as much as arriving safely. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re late or if you wasted some gas with wrong turns. It doesn’t matter if you made some bad decisions along the way. It matters only that you eventually reached your destination without an accident.

I don’t take my errors in direction lightly. It’s a personal flaw over which I need to continue to exercise more control. But I do appreciate the learning opportunity that this spate of wrong turns over the past few weeks provided me. I’ll try to learn what I can, and make more correct turns in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I wouldn't call it "notorious." :) A GPS would really enhance your life. I wish you had asked M+D for one for your b-day! XMAS?