Thoughts: Living Lost

great-wishford-royal-oak-c1955_g340001

I found this place by mistake.

My (now ex) wife and I were in England. It was our first trip (I would eventually make 3 of them, and I hope I have at least a couple of more ahead of me). We had gotten off the plane in Gatwick.

We spent a week in London first. All walking and the Tube (Subway). The normal stuff. Museums. Theaters, Cathedrals, all of it. When the week was done. I picked up a little rental car in the heart of London and headed out. Note to self – if it is your first time driving in the UK, do not start your driving in the inner city. I eventually got used to that whole “driving on the other side of the road” thing, but the place to learn is not in the midst of one of the largest cities in the world. I was, for a time, perpetually freaked out, and at one point, drove too close to a pole and clipped off the side mirror of my tiny little car.

I parked, Found one of those wonderful red phone boxes that no longer exist and called the car rental company. What to do?

Fortunately, I had paid for the insurance. I could either drive back to the rental office in downtown London (as if!) or just wait till I got back to the airport to turn it in. That was an easy call. I tossed that mirror in the back seat and never looked back. Soon I was outside the city, and the whole right side of the road thing began to make sense. I came to love it.

I drove to Salisbury and saw Stonehenge. This was back in the day when you could actually walk among the stones, not like today where you can walk around them, but not close enough to get a sense of their full size and majesty, not to touch them in wonder. It was magical. But eventually, the day caught up with me. We still had to get to Bath, an hour or more away. Time to head out.

I got lost. Of course I did. In a day that ranged from clipping off mirrors in downtown London, to wrestling with the driving thing, to seeing and touching and experiencing Stonehenge, I was beat. I took a wrong turn somewhere. Which led to more wrong turns, which lead to Great Wishford and a big old wave of exhaustion washing over me. I could have found my way back to the main road, but I did not. There was a Bed and Breakfast there, in an old post office. (“It’s not so old, dearie” the woman who ran it told me. “Only 1500’s) and I stopped, hoping they had a room. They did.

Greater Wishford is the quintessential English village. You can almost hear Shakespeare or Dickens as you drive through it. It has an ivy-covered pub. Houses close to the road with wild wonderful English gardens. There’s a 12th-century church with a stone plaque listing all the rectors since it’s founding. You can walk the whole place in half an hour or so, and at the edge of town, there are paths through the farms into the countryside where you see sheep and fields of that improbably green color you only find in England and Ireland.

It is, in short, delightful.

So delightful, that on all my other trips to England, that’s where I start. It’s an easy drive from Gatwick Airport. It’s a nice place to begin a trip, to throw off the feeling of being an American and lose yourself, immerse yourself, into something wholly different, almost fairy tale like. A day in Wishford and you’re rested and you are wholly present in the England of Dickens. It is way up my list of favorite places in the word. And I never would have found it had I not gotten lost.

I spend a lot of my life lost.

Oh, I make plans. I do my homework. I lay out strategies. And mostly they are good ones, But somehow, I always seem to wander into things that are totally unexpected. Stuff happens. People do unexpected things. Things blow up. Things fall apart. I wander too far. I am perhaps, too curious, too willing to stray, too willing to take that road to the left I’ve never traveled. And I end up lost. A lot.

That lostness used to make me fret. I’ll admit it. I like feeling like I am on top of things. I like knowing where I am going. I love being the expert or the one who knows where everything is. It’s a good feeling. When things went awry, I would worry. A lot.

One of my favorite quotes is from JRR Tolkien” All who wander are not lost.” Well. I am generally lost. But age has its advantages. I finally came to realize being lost is not always a bad thing. It’s being lost that has led to the Greater Wishfords in my life. The good stuff. Being lost is not bad, I have decided. Just uncomfortable.

It has changed how I live my life. I used to plan out all the big things in my life. I build three largish companies by hard planning and hard work. All three succeeded, but (I now realize), not before blowing my plans to hell and back. When I started my part-time ministry a couple of years ago, I had plans – all of which have blown up. God does have a sense of humor, for sure. When I got married, and began having kids, I had the same fairy tale story most of us have of how life and the raising of kids and the smooth ride into the sunset.

Well, it was a good idea. It was a good plan. Really it was. But the marriage ended, There was a time of separation and divorce, and a black time of depression and a time when the kids didn’t like me much, and then a time when they came back to me, fairly broken, and when I moved from my dream house to a tiny apartment, to here to there, and finally to a place I never expected – Vermont where the kids came to me and we developed incredibly strong bonds and healing. If you had asked me 15 years ago what life would be like in 15 years, you would have gotten an answer, complete with plans of how I’d get there.

Plans that, if you look at my life now, would make you ask “What good was that plan?”

Good question. THAT plan was useless.

I’ve come to a different place. I make plans differently today. I don’t make plans on what I want in terms of job or house, or things or money. I’ve learned they blow up. Or they show up unexpectedly.  It may work for others, and there’s nothing wrong with a starting point. Plans make great starting points. I just don’t really believe them too much any more.

What I do instead is work on plans for me. What can I change about me to make the life I want happen. Because the life I want, I have learned, has little to do with money and things and houses and all that stuff I believed in when I was younger. It has more to do with having love in my life, interesting work, a chance to be creative, time to be reflective and spiritual. And those things come from changing me, not manipulating the world around me.

“Start with the end in mind.” That quote comes from Stephen Covey, who wrote 7 Habits for Highly Effective People.” He knew. Change our focus, change our character, change ourselves and the rest happens. We may be lost for a time. In fact, we probably will be lost for a time. But when we are in the right place, the stuff we really want happens. We just have to be ready for it in our hearts. We have to believe we are worthy and believe it can, it will. We have to live in expectation and readiness.

I once asked a Sunday School class I taught how many green cars they had seen on the way to church that day. They could not remember seeing any. So I told them to look for them the next Sunday and guess what? That second Sunday, they saw oodles of them! Why? Because they were looking.

Life is the same. Look for the good stuff and we find it. Look for the crap, and we find it. We can’t plan for that, but we can be ready. We can choose what to look for and even when we are lost, it will show up.

Just like Greater Wishford.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

PS – I have real pictures of Great Wishford, but I have a weakness for old postcards of places. You will see them all over my house. Postcards from the fifties and sixties of places I have traveled. There’s a romantic feel to them that captures my own feeling for places better than a crisp new photograph. This one is of the pub, The Royal Oak. It still looks like this, albeit with newer cars in front.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts: Living Lost

  1. Hi Tom, I printed this one out to save. I’m feeling rather lost these days as retirement approaches, and I love what you say: “What I do is work on plans for me. What can I change about me to make the life I want happen … It has to do with having love in my life, interesting work, a chance to be creative, time to be reflective … But when we are in the right place, the stuff we really wants happens. We just have to be ready for it in our hearts … Look for the good stuff and we find it … We can’t plan for that, but we can be ready. We can choose what to look for and even when we are lost, it will show up.” Jon is encouraging me to explore writing poetry, keep up my blog posts, etc. so I can find the creative path for myself – and your words above reinforce that. Thanks so much!

    • I am glad that it helps, in any way I might. My experience is real and hard won, so I believe in it wholly. The creative is such an important part of the path. Not the whole path, but certainly important. I agree with Jon, keep it up if it nourishes you. Sending prayers! Check in any time.

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