16. Being Lost

We have all gotten lost at one time or another. It usually happens when we are in a location that is completely unfamiliar. We may be looking for a particular address or a street that will lead us back in the direction we want. A hiker may be looking for a trail that leads out of the woods and back to familiar ground. Sometimes, we may get lost in an area that we should know well but, for some reason, we never fully explored. Or we may encounter culs-de-sac or detours.

Things have become easier with GPS in automobiles and navigation apps on the smartphone, but that’s not always a guarantee of a favorable outcome. GPS directions may take you through areas that you would normally avoid. At times, a traveler may input incorrect or incomplete information. This can happen when streets in a town have similar names such as Main St., West Main St., East Main St., or Jones St., Jones Ave., Jones Way, Jones Drive.

Other times, GPS and navigation apps seem to want to kill you or at least get you in trouble with the law, such as instructing you to turn in the wrong direction on a one-way street. Then there are times when GPS and navigation apps seem just plain mischievous. Recently, I heard about a couple who wanted to find a certain casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They relied on an app that sent them 70 miles away to an unpaved road in the middle of a wildlife refuge in another county; they were so flustered, they had to call the police for help.

Because I don’t drive, I am always my wife’s passenger. As such, I drive her crazy when she gets us lost. I ask her repeatedly why she took a wrong turn, why can’t she correct her course, why she doesn’t stop and ask someone for directions – she usually retorts that there’s an 80 percent chance that the person will say “I don’t know,” even at a gas station; she’s right about this, but she also likes to figure things out on her own.

Which brings me to my point: I am starting to realize that how you handle getting lost is also how you handle your life. My wife is very self-reliant. She is proud to have found her own way in life without anyone’s patronage and without kowtowing to others’ wishes. As for getting lost while driving, she loves to point out that she has always found her way home, no matter how turned around and frustrated she has been. She never lets me forget that she has driven across the U.S. twice.

I, on the other hand, detest losing my way. My sense of direction is limited, so I like familiar surroundings, which is part of my resistance to change. Which seems odd, given that I left my homeland behind to live with my non-Italian wife in a completely different country. Plus, I enjoy visiting other states and countries when we go on vacation. For all the haranguing I do, I feel safe with my wife by my side because I can trust her to lead us home safely.

What about when a person does not consider herself lost but others do? I have a friend whose widowed aunt lived alone in a retirement community. In her younger days, this lady and her husband traveled all over the U.S., and she always took her turn at the wheel. As an older woman, she still drove herself to her doctor appointments, did her own shopping, and drove to the senior center every week day.

When the aunt was about 90 years old, she took off one day in her car without telling anyone where she was going. After her relatives realized that she was gone two days, they became quite worried. They notified the state police, and when this led nowhere, the police issued a BOLO (be-on-the-lookout bulletin) to other law enforcement agencies. Nearly a week after “disappearing,” the aunt was spotted at a gas station by police in a neighboring state. A couple of relatives took the two-hour drive there and escorted the protesting woman home.

The aunt was furious. She insisted that she was not lost and had merely gone to visit old friends that she had not seen in many years. No one knows if this was true. She was also humiliated by her treatment as a doddering old fool.

The relatives took away the aunt’s car keys. Within months, she became paranoid and aggressive, and was no longer able to live on her own. She died less than two years later in a healthcare facility.

I get a lump in my throat whenever I think that this once-vibrant woman became the senile shell of herself that her relatives believed her to be.

Lost? – Palma de Mallorca, Spain courtesy of “Anton”

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