Adventures of Getting Lost

My sister loves to tell “epic” stories. Whether she is describing her long waits in the driveway of her best friend’s house or the latest gossip from her high school, my sister is a true Italian as she raises her voice to elevate the drama and gestures her hands to emphasize her points.

It seems that not a day goes by when Jackie does not have at least one story to share. The other day, after coming home from a lacrosse game, she proceeded to skip all the details about the final score or her playing time, and instead she talked nonstop for more than five minutes about how she and her best friend became lost in the opposing team’s school and had to ask countless times for directions to the bathroom. She said that the two of them asked multiple times where they could find the bathroom, but repeatedly the instructions failed them. It was only after the third attempt that they finally found their desired destination, a spot the rest of the lacrosse team had seemed to find rather easily.

Considering the energy and enthusiasm my sister had when describing this tale, one might have thought that she was coming off of a victory high, ecstatic and thrilled by her varsity team’s win. Notably, however, her energy did not follow a victory, but rather a blowout defeat by one of the league’s top teams. When I asked her why she had such liveliness and spirit after the loss, she said it was because the search for the bathroom afterwards was like a little adventure. With only a destination in mind, Jackie and her best friend had no idea how to get there. Relying on the left and right directions given by a few students and a teacher, the pair traveled the hallways like two clueless tourists in a foreign country. And yet, even after instructions, the two of them had to ask again and again in order to ultimately reach their course’s conclusion.

As I listened to my sister’s story, my mind began to drift away from her descriptions of the abandoned hallways and soaking-wet cleats and float towards my memories of getting lost abroad. Although I learned multiple lessons while overseas, one thing that persistently challenged me was the art of following directions. Admittedly I have never been good at giving or following directions. Living in Rhode Island, I navigate my way along the streets and through the cities by identifying the nearest Dunkin Donuts or oversized bush. Left and right are practically useless to me; one can usually guarantee that when one says “right,” I will turn the opposite way.

I was hoping that my direction dyslexia would be cured after being tested multiple times during my travels, but four months later, I think it has only slightly improved. I can remember numerous occasions from the past semester when I struggled in my search for a specific destination, but though there came moments of frustration, I would not change any of those times of fluster for anything.

Besides the overwhelming feeling that came with living in a foreign country, my first vivid memory of this lost feeling came when my housemate and I ventured into the city after our first week in Florence. Anxious to find the famous Sant’ Ambrogio open-air market, we set forth on the chilly winter day on a mission to buy fresh Tuscan bread, creamy mozzarella cheese, and ripe tomatoes. Running on a memory from a earlier trip, Emily led us towards the Santa Croce piazza, but from there the two of us had no idea where to turn next. Confused and hungry, we proceeded to ask multiple passerbyers for directions.

Tre strade, a poi una sinistra. Ok, three streets, and then…sinistra? Did that mean left or right? What constituted as a street? Did what look like an alley count as one of the three?  Ultimately, after multiple dead ends, wrong turns, pauses for directions, and finally identifying sinistra as left and destra as right, we reached the Mercato di Sant’Ambrogio.

Amidst all the confusion and grumbling stomachs, getting lost was a blessing in disguise. This was true for all those times during the semester when I had no sense of direction about when to turn and when to keep straight. Had Emily and I not known our way around Brussels we never would have had to ask for directions and listened as a friendly Dutchman tried to instruct us to our hostel in his native tongue. Nor would I have seen the glistening light show of the Eiffel Tower had my spring break companions and I not remembered the easiest route to the Orsay Muesum after finishing our climb down from the iconic French symbol. Nor would I have found a cat sanctuary among ancient Roman ruins when searching for anyplace open in Rome to buy a bottle of Limoncello to share with friends.

Even as I missed the correct turn or blindly walked past my destination, each time I became lost was an opportunity for me to see what I might have originally ignored or never noticed. These were moments of spontaneity, unexpectedness, and wonder. As Justina Chen Headley once wrote, “Getting lost is just another way of saying ‘going exploring.'”

So whether it is on route to the Orsay Museum or to the bathroom, sometimes the journey becomes a better story to share than the one from the destination.

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