As a boy, I played in the woods – acres and acres of tree-thick hills, down by the Wabash River. That wood was riddled with animal trails, creek beds, and logging roads. I played many and various games there, such as pretending a big fallen tree was a pirate ship, designing floorplans of huge mansions on the leaf-strewn ground with a rake, damming up creeks, sticks-are-swords, first/last-man-on-Earth and such. My favorite game by far was to get lost. This was not easy, because I knew the wood well, but once in a while I would manage to lose track of where I was. Being lost was my favorite feeling. The world would transform, all becoming unfamiliar, and my senses would heighten – twig snaps like rifle cracks – as all manner of possibility manifested: maybe I would find something new and amazing; maybe I had crossed over to another world; maybe I was about to encounter a person, an animal, an elf, an ogre, the Cheshire Cat! Of course, all too soon I would get my bearings again and that feeling would fade much the same as dreams do, so I could never quite remember it afterwards. But there was a relief, too, that flooded me upon returning to the familiar, and that was a part of the joy of getting lost. As I grew older, those experiences became fainter and fewer and farther in between until I pretty much lost the ability to feel lost.
Then I got my driver’s license. Lost was back! I got hold of a little beat-up truck and drove far and wide in my state and neighboring states, rocketing down random gravel backroads in previously unvisited counties, losing myself quite thoroughly, and then struggling to find my way back to marked roads and known towns. Though I had much less in the way of flights of fancy at that point (farewell, Cheshire), there was still the thrill of the new and unfamiliar. Who knew what I would come across while lost? I took in more than my share of the beauty of the midwest in those days – scenic vistas and picturesque buildings and equipment hidden behind the towns – the rustic and the idyllic. I discovered dirt lanes where the trees grow together overhead, banks of (to me) nameless waters, forgotten little graveyards in the middle of nowhere… and a lot of the time, there was again the heightened-senses sensation. What if I wrecked or broke down or ran out of gas? In fact, over the course of that couple of years I did all three, and those experiences are the foundation of my faith in people, because invariably I found myself receiving help from kind strangers.
The story of my affinity for being lost goes on and on. The range of my explorations broadened as I got older to the coasts of the contiguous states and through Canada up to Alaska, down into Mexico, and eventually to Northeast Asia. I was never the sort of traveler to have an itinerary or a planned route. I have flown by the seat of my pants all my life. In this way, I have afforded myself countless opportunities to be surprised. I do this in other ways, too – set myself up for surprise. For example, I purposely pay no attention to weather forecasts, so I never know in advance what tomorrow will be like.
I say getting lost sets me up for surprise, but I’m pretty sure there’s actually more to all of this than just that. I think that what I am really opening myself up to is something like… grace. Probably in more than one sense of the word. So let’s see… there’s grace under pressure and in challenging situations, there’s graceful acceptance and handling of the unexpected, that for which one is not prepared, there’s gracious interaction with new and different people, and then there’s something more like divine grace. Numberless are the times when I have felt that the outrageous good fortune I’ve had, the truly awesome beauty I have witnessed, the perfect timing I have experienced, the unbelievable encounters I’ve had, that these have happened by the grace of God.
Yes, grace is what I set out to reach for in this little session of writing, because over at dVerse Poets Pub this week, Paul Scribbles is calling for poems about it.
So here’s a poem.
I’ve run headlong
in the full flush of moonless night
down the pothole-riddled roads of
towns far-flung from my own.
I’ve done this not because I am fearless
or think my fool self impervious to harm
nor because I invite the pain of a sprained ankle,
the agony of a broken bone, even sudden death.
What I find
in this recklessness
is more than mere exhilaration
more than the rush of throwing the dice.
Yes, fear can be fun, can send the senses reeling
and aye, I am a gambling man, upon my life I am
but sprinting into darkness, what I feel
is something akin to prayer.
The Hell you say! – I hear now in my mind –
What’s your daft thrill-seeking blind luck to do
I cannot answer this.
All I know is pure hope
unuttered petition for mercy
the precious glimpse of grace
the relief upon returning unbroken to the light.