When You Feel Lost

I was warned.

I was warned about bad neighborhoods when I began to explore the world. Relatives portrayed it as an unkind place where bad karma, bad luck, and bad people lurked.

They seemed to mean they waited for me alone.

Parents ought to warn, but not so much as to form a fearful youngster. In time I took my chances and dared to explore.

Not only the city, but myself, the uncovering of my self: exposure to condemnation and humiliation, rejection, and all the common disgraces uncommonly hurtful when they happen to us.

How else, I reasoned, can I be known?

We need to get lost a few times to make our way. We must be disappointed in our fellow man to distinguish those worthy of trust from those who are not.

Our job is to fall down but not stay down. To enlighten ourselves not just from books, but the game, the ladder, and the heart.

Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”

He advised us to make goals.

But isn’t taking unknown trails to uncharted destinations also an essential message?

How about “The Road Not Taken”?

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Is the verse grim? The poet, Robert Frost, wished us to smile: “My poems … are all set to trip the reader head (first) into the boundless.”

If we take him by the two last words — “the boundless” — perhaps one meaning is to fill life with experiences, adventures, and explorations of the world without and the world within.

Might we reveal to ourselves who we are by searching the unfamiliar places, the avoided challenges, the prospects we fear? How else shall we overcome them and recognize our flourishing resides in growing mastery?

Perhaps misdirection and disorientation lead to unexpected joy.

The admonition “know thyself” cannot be fulfilled without discovering our choices in unaccustomed circumstances, with people different from ourselves, attempting skills not yet expert.

Until we are swept away and carried aloft how can we know where to land?

Enlargement of life comes from living it, unless you enjoy confinement.

Possibility awaits outside the box, outside the lines, outside. Beauty, too.

When I was a boy, I recall older kids saying “get lost” to those young ones they didn’t want nearby. They meant, “stay away.”

But might a wise mentor say to a young man, “lose your way,” as a strange kind of guidance?

Every so often, “getting lost” might be just the thing. Early enough, when time is on your side, before dark.

Until you trod the unpaved, unplumbed, unfamiliar off ramps a few times, you won’t ever discover your hidden resilience.

Perhaps only by getting lost on occasion can we find ourselves.

——-

The first image is Lost Bird Logo by Tánh Nguyễn. Next comes Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead in its 1883 version, followed by Blossoming by Paul Klee. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The Handwriting on The Wall

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/7b/Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar%27s_Feast_-_WGA19123.jpg/500px-Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar%27s_Feast_-_WGA19123.jpg
“Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you!” So said the great Negro Leagues pitcher Satchell Paige. This was one of his six rules for staying young, which first appeared in Collier’s magazine in the June 13, 1953 issue.

Good advice?

Maybe, maybe not.

The weight of regret as we look back on mistakes can be great, robbing us of the possibility of happiness now or in the future.

On the other hand, if we are to learn anything about life, some amount of reflection on the past is required.

There is also a biblical take on this to be found in the Book of Daniel. It is rendered above in a reproduction of Rembrandt’s painting Belshazzar’s Feast.

The story is told that in ancient Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar had transported loot from Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem to his own royal court. At a drunken feast, his son, the new King Belshazzar uses these sacred objects of silver and gold to “praise the gods of gold and silver, brass, iron, wood, and stone.” The fingers of a hand suddenly appear and write Hebrew words on the wall behind the king. No one in the king’s party can translate the message, where upon Belshazzar summons an exiled Jew who had worked under Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel informs the king that he has blasphemed and decodes the meaning of the words:
God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.
You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

So it comes to pass that very evening that King Belshazzar is murdered and replaced as king by Darius the Mede.

The handwriting on the wall comes late, too late for Belshazzar to undo his misdeed and profit from the learning. Most of us have a bit better chance of putting things right and reforming ourselves and our behavior.

Unfortunately, not everyone does so, that is, takes the time to learn. Satchell Paige was right: “…something might be gaining on you.” But it just might be something important, knowledge or self-awareness that must catch up to you despite the forward rush of life.

One of Paige’s contemporaries, Adlai Stevenson II,  put it very well.

“Most people can’t read the handwriting on the wall until their back is up against it.”

My advice?

Don’t be one of those people.

Look over your shoulder now and then. A little self-reflection is a good thing.

The above image is Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt, source from the Web Gallery of Art via Wikimedia Commons.