by Elise Seyfried
I’ve always had a lousy sense of direction. Even as a child, I remember getting lost on a three- block walk to a friend’s house. Whenever anyone asked me where my school was, for example, I drew a complete blank. Perhaps the other kids were paying heed as our intrepid driver careened through the neighborhoods in Bus 22 towards Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Not me; the bus could have sprung paddles and propelled us across the water to London every day for all I noticed or cared.
It didn’t help that we moved around a lot. New York City and suburbs, Duxbury MA, Atlanta GA…it was all a blur of expressways, residential streets and winding country roads. Dad was the family chauffeur, and I was constantly amazed when we pulled up to the library or grocery store. How the heck did we end up here? I’d think. Every single time.
When I reached age 16 and got my license, I thought I might magically master the twists and turns that would lead me to my destinations. Alas, no. The map (remember the roadmap?) was my constant companion whenever I strayed from my habitual route to work — and forget about detours! I should have traveled with a bag of breadcrumbs, à la Hansel and Gretel, to mark my path. Inevitably, I’d pull into a gas station, hopelessly turned around, listen intently to the cashier’s instructions — then take off again in the opposite direction from what had been recommended seconds before.
Getting older, it’s gotten worse. For some reason, even if I can get somewhere, I get all befuddled when it’s time for the return trip. Nothing looks familiar, no landmark rings any kind of bell with me. I blame my chronic inattention to my surroundings. By the way, don’t ask me the color of your carpet or the make of your vehicle; I haven’t a clue.
My mom Joanie never drove, and gabbed her way through life in the passenger seat, Mrs. Oblivious. God help you if you asked her to find a location. She would look at you as if you’d just requested a short-cut to Jupiter. Luckily Mom never had to find her way out of a paper bag on her own.
Among my offspring, Rose, PJ and Julie can navigate pretty well on the highways and byways. They can find IKEA without ending up at Walmart. Sheridan is spooky: for a non-driver, he can lead anyone anywhere with 100% accuracy. But Evan is my Traveling Twin. He was born and raised in Oreland and still has trouble finding his way around. We thought it quite ironic that he was charged with driving a submarine in the Navy, and often pictured the boat heading the wrong way around the world with Evan at the helm.
My husband Steve is Directions King, hands down. He can find a place he hasn’t driven to in 30 years. He NEVER gets lost. I find him very obnoxious.
I watched a video the other night by the terrific young writer and pastor, Rob Bell, called “Shells.” In it, Bell talks about Jesus’ perfect sense of direction and purpose for his life on earth. He was always traveling towards Jerusalem and the cross. That was his goal, his “one thing” to which all of his other activities (healing, preaching) led Him. Rob compares our journeys, with all of our cares and distractions, to a child at the beach, holding two brimming handfuls of shells so tightly that he can’t pick up the beautiful starfish that is within his reach. Bell challenges us to identify our “one thing,” the main focus of our lives — our starfish, as it were — and to follow a pathway that leads us there.
I worry that my automotive directionless-ness has a parallel to my off-road existence. Am I drifting through the years without a clear sense of where I’m bound? Do I have a five-year —heck, a five-day — plan for my future? Am I always asking for help, then roaring off the opposite way? I fear I may get to the final moment of my earthly span and say, “How the heck did I end up here?”
Is it too late to learn to watch where I’m going on the complicated road of life?
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She is the author of a recently self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life,” a collection of essays, humorous but with a spiritual focus. The book can be purchased for $15 plus shipping through eliseseyfried.com. (Also from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, although they add an extra charge.)