The sun set early in Tarrytown, N.Y., last week, but that wasn’t an obstacle to finding a local restaurant for dinner in the beauty of small town New York. Using the iPhone as navigator, I found the restaurant easily enough, driving slow on slick roads, as the rain had fallen steadily for more than a day.
In the dark, the rain-slick streets were blue-black and shiny. It’s surprising how many jagged stone cliffs and windy roads wove between lakes and streams. When I think New York, I think the hard rap of feet on pavement and the beat-beat of trains and buses and car horns honking.
But minutes outside of the city, it’s as if the bustle of big ceases to exist. The ravioli was fine, the salad warming. I read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, underlining and dog-earing so I would remember inspiration.
When I’ve been somewhere once, it’s usually easy for me to get back. My sense of direction is rock-solid. I tuned the radio louder and turned into the road I had taken to get there. Only, I could not turn back the way I had come; it was a one-way and I was entering to go somewhere unfamiliar.
The towns surrounding New York City are small and tightly woven together, like a quilt of patches. There is charm and style and a sense of I-would-love-to-live-here. There are great hills and intimate communities of people who know one another.
But I am not from there. I live in the wide-open-spaces Midwest, where roads are familiar and clearly marked. Except I knew then that if I were driving an unfamiliar route in the rain, even back home, it would set me off track.
And so it did last week. I drove until I could turn around, thinking I would re-enter the right direction and find familiar turns. But I didn’t. I drove and exited, splashed through ankle-deep rainwater in my rental car, turning around at the gates of a quiet cemetery.
I asked a gas station owner for directions. He emerged from his cubicle, his wife smiling at me in that friendly way of long-married couples, and he pointed me in the right direction. I drove until I thought he said to turn but even then, I thought I was off course.
I stopped a police officer, sure I was just minutes from my hotel, but he had no idea in which direction to send me. I felt hopelessly, fearfully lost.
And then, after a half-hour of driving in circles, fearing that a wrong turn would sendme into the big city or off to Buffalo, I hit upon the route that landed me back at the hotel.
In the morning of the next day, the rain stopped and the sun in pinks of rising, I drove to my seminar, passing signs that told me I had been so close to my destination – and yet it seemed so far. The circles I drove in took me just a few miles from my hotel. I was right there all the time – obscured by the unfamiliarity of the dark and the rain.
I knew then that the half hour or so when I was lost and panicking was a metaphor, loud and clear. Driving in circles in the rain and the night, the darkness clouding any clear vision of seeing what was literally right in front of me.
We all do it. Every day. And it’s so easy to get back on the right road.