September 30, 2009


My brother has a phone with GPS which provides voice instructions. You tell it where you want to go and it tells you to turn left or right on this or that street until you reach your destination. I don’t like it. I like maps. I like to be able to see where I am and where I’m going and figure out the route for myself. I like to be able to see all the alternative paths and understand the complex, interrelated nature of the system. The phone only ever gives you the next step on the path and you have to trust that it knows where it’s going to end up six turns down the line. Maybe I have control issues, but I think I’ll stick with my maps.

The thing about maps, though, is that they frequently don’t show all the streets. That was the case this weekend in San Diego. I was the navigator. I sat up front with Dad and gave instructions, and damn good ones, if I do say so myself. But there is only so much a paper map at a certain scale can tell you. Not all streets are shown or labeled and it doesn’t indicate in which lane on and off ramps are located. So we got lost a bit, but neither of us minded much. We still knew our general location and the direction we needed to go. When Brandon was with us, he could pull it up on his phone, but when he wasn’t, we just wandered a bit.

You have to travel the path that is before you. Since high school I’ve had one path, cutting a big bold swath on the map, clearly marked and labeled. It wasn’t until I was firmly on the interstate that I had the height to see the alternative routes, and as we know about interstates, off ramps aren’t always where you want them. Eventually interstates come to an end and you have to decide where to go from there.

I feel like I’m trying to read a map which has most of the streets missing. At the same time a voice is talking in my ear, telling me the next step without giving me the destination. The first is a question of what to do after graduation. The second is the ongoing struggle with my thesis mentors. I’m trying not to stress about either, but I find myself working with these questions on a daily basis, like a math puzzle in need of solving or a map in need of drawing.

I had a poster once with a frazzled looking cat. “I’ve gone to find myself. If I should return before I get back, keep me here.” I’m never felt more like that than I have these past few weeks. I’ve been thrown lots of platitudes, by myself and others. “Don’t worry, it will work out,” kind of words. I appreciate all of them, but the truth is, I already know that. If I didn’t, I would have melted into a little puddle of anxiety goo years ago. Yes, it will work out, but how and when and where?

I have a map, with many, many paths, but no longer do I have a destination. One path continues straight ahead. Others slightly curve away, while yet others move in completely opposite directions and some of them look bumpy. Now me, I’ve always been partial to the bumpy roads, the mountain trails, the paths where you never quite know what’s around the next corner. But I’ve been on that trail for a while now and I wonder if I shouldn’t rest. And if I rest, how long before I become complacent? How hard will it be to get back up again?

In the end, the purpose is the same. I want to choose the path that helps me help others to the best of my abilities and to the best service to them. Is that architecture? Is that chaplaincy? Is that the Peace Corps? Is that writing? Is it something I haven’t found yet? I understand that choosing one now does not preclude the others later. I can always turn around if I miss my exit, but I’d rather not have to. I’m sure this is a lifelong question, but here and now it has a particular vibrancy. I need to decide, because whatever path I choose, I need to know how to pack. Should I pack business suits, portfolios, and resumes? Should I pack books, notes, and coffee? Should I pack hiking boots and quinine?

I wonder if it isn’t finally time to take advantage of career center counseling or the psychological services program. Do they do any good?

If only life were as easy to navigate as San Diego.

1 comment:

Teacher Jim said...

"I have a map, with many, many paths, but no longer do I have a destination."

Bingo. Hit the nail on the head.

Now, go sit somewhere and think about that. You know it, but you DON'T KNOW IT yet.

That's both your destination and your path. [smile]