Sunday, May 10, 2009

As far as the East is from the West

Despite her best efforts, my mother fell short at teaching me any sort of navigational directions as a child. She would test my senses on routine trips and ventures, only to to be met, time and time again, with my complete oblivion. In fact, my sense of direction was so horrible that it became a family joke (though more "funny/sad"--because it was true---than "funny/haha") that prudence would advise taking the opposite direction of whichever way I suggested. All I knew was that when my mom drove me to day care in the morning, the sun was on my side of the car and when she picked me up at night, it was still there, on my side.

As I got older I earned the privilege of riding my bike to friends' houses. One time I actually rode my bicycle a good twenty minutes in the wrong direction because I couldn't remember whether I should turn left or right at the bike trail entrance. That was my first, and needless to say last for quite some time, endeavor to venture on my own on the trail.

It wasn't until driver's ed that my dubious sense of direction was overcome by something much, much stronger: my stubbornness. Meaning well, our instructor told us that men tend to use concrete methods of navigation, such as compass directions and mileage, whereas women use landmarks and other temporal objects (turn left at that deli we had lunch at the week before Easter last year...). Then he continued to explain why the "manly way" was better: restaurants close, buildings change ownership or are torn down, there may be more than one of them, etc. etc.

This was the point where I decided I wanted to learn the lay of the land and finally took notice of my surroundings.

After that I learned my hometown is laid out like a grid, streets running east and west starting at Lake Michigan, avenues running north and south starting at the northern county border. Finding an address in that city is one of the easiest things a person could ever do, with one or two exceptions thrown in here and there.

This system became my directional point of reference; so much so that it took me a moment to readjust at college when the nearest lake was to the north of campus, not the east. And then I moved to Nashville--a place where East Nashville is technically north of the city and West End practically runs down the middle of it. Here I've had to once again realign and recenter my internal compass in order to make heads or tails of the city layout.

Sometimes, however, navigating a city proves far simpler than navigating one's self. Oftentimes I still feel like the little girl sitting in the passenger's seat on the way to the Reddlin's house, telling my mom to turn right on 85th when she knew we were suppose to turn left into the cul du sac-filled neighborhood just up the road. I feel like I haven't yet met that well-meaning driver's ed instructor of life who will off-handedly tell me the way to break out of my nonchalance.

Yet this nonchalance, this system navigation, has less to do with moving vehicles than it has to do with something so much more industrial, more dangerous, more demanding. This navigational system I now find myself in is not a grid with easy rules. You can not graph this on your TI-85. And yet, like my self from yester years, I sit at a junction with the question hanging overhead: "Which way do I go?"

And I am still afraid that I will choose the wrong path. What's more, I'm afraid of not learning anything by turning right when the answer was left. There are answers everywhere. Maybe the question shouldn't be which way do I go but "what will I learn and who will be willing to let me learn and learn along side me?" I think those are the more important questions. '

As far as east is from the west. That's how far my thoughts are from yours. I know. It seems that leaves a massive gulch in which we all might revel and careen and err and be tangled or loosed, to be broken and redeemed.

East is the car ride in to my day care and west is the car ride home. Between is the gully in which we live and play and breathe and sob and eat and rest and revive. And Hope.

I am no longer a child. I know how to get to the Reddlin's. Now I just need to stop second guessing myself. I know where I am: between the east and the west. Helping me have confidence in that. For that is what I need. here. in the in between.