Was driving solo to my aunt’s on Saturday for her 70th birthday celebration (Karin was out of town).
The party kicked off at 3PM and with my departure time, I would arrive a fashionable 30 minutes late.
My aunt lives in a rarely used corner of New York State. I consistently forget the exit as there are at least four options. In fact, I’ve made enough mistakes going to her house that even my mistakes look familiar ("oh yeah, I remember that sign").
A few years ago, I wised up and wrote the directions in the atlas I keep in the car. As I approached the collection of exits for Route 17 (One of these is 17M — I understand 17E or 17W, but 17M???), I reached to pull my trusty map from the back seat.
As my hand found only leather backing of the passenger seat, I remembered that I had taken my atlas out of the car so my brother (visiting from Alaska to surprise my aunt) could map out a route from my house to my sister’s in New Hampshire. As the myriad of exits approached, in my mind’s eye, I could see the atlas, open to the state of Vermont, resting on my coffee table.
I was on my own. No map. No GPS. No cell phone. There was no place to stop and ask directions, and besides, that’s cheating.
I usually have an excellent sense of direction. I never gotten lost in the woods and I can usually look at the position of the sun or just intuit the proper way to go. But this area continues to be my personal Bermuda Triangle where all my navigation systems go dead.
I zoomed past the first two exits, doing my best to fight off the growing feeling of agitation. I noticed the swirl of energy filling my chest.
I’d been in the car close to four hours. I wanted out. I had taken steps to never have this issue again by writing the directions in the atlas. My thoughts were clear. This wasn’t my mistake. And I quickly found a goat to scape.
If my brother hadn’t asked me for the atlas, it would be in my car and I would be peacefully on my way. This was his fault, not mine.
I caught myself immediately. But even in catching myself, the thoughts of blame did not instantly melt away. They lingered, like the overly loud party guest who has had too much to drink, but still refills his glass instead of finding the door.
Blaming is the easiest (and darkest) thing to do. For most of us, we established neural pathways that direct responsibility from ourselves to other people. In this way, our ego thrives — when it’s not our fault, we remain, good, smart, able. And other people are the reason for how we behave and feel.
But the greater truth is that blaming never feels good. There’s always anger, resentment, and fear driving blame. Not where you want to be.
Even the idea of trying to establish culpability is a waste of time. The fact was that I was lost. Trying to pin my situation on someone else was not going to lead me to the proper course.
I had to consciously release my feelings of blame. To do so, I put my focus on the present moment. Everything is cool in the present moment.
Except is was not.
I was clearly going the wrong way. I knew I had to turn around and head in the other direction, but the next exit was not for 18 miles! I passed three of those little connecting roads that say "No U-Turn" where the cops like to hide out. I was tempted to take the shortcut, but resigned myself to play it straight. I reminded myself that all this was perfect; my job was to be okay with what IS.
Forty minutes later, I made it back to the critical juncture where I chose the wrong exit. I still was not sure which direction to chose, but I had taken one option off the table.
I made my choice, exited the highway, and immediately added one more car to the traffic jam. I crawled forward for twenty minutes, finally passing the site of the accident. Ten miles later, I realized I had chosen the wrong direction once again. Broken, I stopped twice to ask for directions, but found little valuable information.
My back throbbed with the discomfort of being trapped in the car. The party started an hour and a half ago. I SHOULD be there by now. I SHOULD have had my map. I SHOULD be giving people hugs and enjoying a cold beer.
But I was not. And I had to be cool with that. Or at least, I wanted to be cool with that. I want to maintain that sense of equilibrium, no matter what the circumstances around me. And I wish to consciously give up the notion of blame. Such a toxic habit.
Eventually I arrived at the party. I was two hours late. I had just missed the little ceremony where people apparently sang songs and flooded my favorite aunt with appreciation. Physically, I was drained from the ride. When people asked me where I had been, I told the story a couple times, but the words came out of my mouth as a habit; there was little charge behind them. When I was asked a third time where I had been, I just replied, "Hey, I’m here now," without explaining or reliving the experience.
I promised myself I would not mention the map to my brother, but I did, a sign that I’m not completely free of this dynamic yet. But I know where to go, the work that needs to be done.
In hindsight, in order to find something essential to the quality of our lives, perhaps we must allow ourselves to get a bit lost every now and again.
(And Ned, I apologize if made you feel guilty. I love you, brother).