"I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks." Daniel Boone
"I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new, and that is ultimately good for the artist". Billy Joel
I grew up in a small town in Ohio – a picturesque postcard kind of place with historic buildings lining Main Street and a waterfall running under the bridge. The local paper reported on criminal activity involving the theft of Halloween pumpkins and the bitter controversy over the architectural plans for the new post office. The population was small enough that there were hardly any strangers. I walked to school, to my job at the drug store, to my friend’s houses. I knew that town like the back of my hand. It was completely safe and predictable – a bubble if you will.
That is why we craved the uncomfortable. We wanted to feel uneasy, to delve into the unfamiliar. My sister and I snuck out the bedroom window to see what the world was like under a blanket of inky darkness. We set out into the world with a goal of getting lost.
We’d walk past the three birch trees where the high school kids would drink beer, leaving shards of green glass from broken Rolling Rock bottles littering the ground and shimmering like emeralds in the moonlight. We continued past the heap of rocks some farmer had piled up to clear a field. We forged ahead to the place where the swinging vines hung low enough to grab on a running start. Behind this was uncharted territory.
We continued to walk until we looked around and saw nothing-familiar, only trees and more trees. No sound of traffic or humans, only silence. We’d stand mutely letting it sink in. We were lost. We no longer knew the way to get home.
Then the fear touched us like a cold clammy hand on a shoulder in the dark. Soaking into our skin to settle in our stomachs, an unsettling sick feeling. It tapped on our hearts increasing our pulse rates, and we reveled in that feeling. It was so unfamiliar to us.
We wanted this – to have someone yank the rug out from under our feet for a moment, to poke a hole in the blanket of security we constantly wore around us. And when we regained our senses and looked around us, we remembered the direction home.
In fact, we could never forget where we came from, no matter how hard we tried. We would return among familiar paths, worn smooth by our feet to the comfort of our home and revel in the comfort that was all the more poignant now that it was spiked with a taste of the unknown, leaving a thrilling bitter taste in our mouth and shocking us momentarily out of complacency.
I still love this feeling. I am an organizer for a trail running group. On Saturdays I lead them into the woods to the only remaining unmarked trails in the area, and we run until we are lost. I like to see how different people react to the realization. Some are clearly uncomfortable. They want to consult their GPS; they want to know the way out. I just want to keep going and see what we find. I know we’ll find our way home eventually, but for a an hour or so I’d like to get a glimpse of the unknown.