Tuesday, January 19, 2016


I do not have an inborn compass. Some people do, but I am not one of them.

I have a friend who grew up in rural Iowa. We were once traveling in the District of Columbia and using the Metro to get about. We would come up from one of the subterranean stations into a place neither of us had ever seen before, and he would consult a map (or not) and would immediately know where we should go. Left to my own devices, even after referring to one of those handy "You are here" maps outside the stations, nine times out of ten I would walk two or three blocks in the wrong direction before realizing I was turned around and had to backtrack and try again. His ability to know where he was and which direction was what seemed mysterious to me. I tried to convince him that it was because he had a huge lump of iron in his hard head and that made it sensitive to magnetic fields.

I thought of him today as I was looking out the window at the windmills on the western horizon. It has taken me almost a month to be able to find them at first attempt. Part of the problem is that they are sometimes invisible because of the way the sun is/not shining on them. But mostly the problem is I look off in the wrong direction, usually too far to the north. For the more immediate area, I try to orient myself by looking down at the roads, but that confuses me because roads that run northeast-southwest in reality "feel" like they run north and south. And they twist and turn and I think of them as staying straight.

I am one of those people who uses landmarks to find his way about. Road signs are handy, of course. But when I lived in Chicago, people would tell me to take the Edens Expressway and I would look at a map and just see interstate numbers. Or, God help me, when I lived in Boston, streets changed names willy-nilly. The same street name would appear in wildly different parts of town because of all the villages that had used the same names but for different cow paths in the long ago. A Franciscan friend told me that he once complained to a Boston matron about how hard it was to find one's way around in Brookline because of confusing and missing street signs. She told him that if he did not know where he was, he wasn't supposed to be there.

I will get oriented eventually. Oddly enough, I know how to get lots of places by car. I just don't know where they are in relation to one another and to the north star. Or to the rising or setting sun.


Helen said...

Amen, Brother.

Mitchell is Moving said...

My mother and her best friend were once driving 10 miles into the "country" outside Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to visit another friend. They knew they needed to turn right at the green farmhouse. One and a half hours later, they noticed they had driven well into Minnesota. They turned around and when the got back to where they should have turned, they were indignant. "Someone had gone and painted the green farmhouse blue!"