As I was sliding down the hill, I had to question the wisdom of taking the trail my 12-year-old son, Tom, wanted to take.
I figured that because I was with my dad, it would be OK. But my dear 71-year-young father was way ahead of me and wasn’t looking back. I’d lost sight of him.
Tom was behind me, exclaiming that this was the best day of his life.
For a minute I panicked. We were 15 minutes from home in a state park I’ve known since the age of nine, but I feared we were hopelessly lost.
There are few things I hate more than being lost. I’ll do anything to avoid it. I have the worse sense of direction in all of human history. I can get lost getting out of a paper bag.
Tom had no idea anything was wrong. All he knew was that he was with his mom and grandfather having a great time. He trusted me completely. Poor kid.
Then it happened, I had a flashback to 34 years earlier.
I was 11, at a sleepaway camp deep in the woods of Upstate New York. I had just successfully spent my first night in my new sleeping bag. I woke up that morning before anyone else and needed the bathroom. Not wanting to bother my counselor, I declined her sleepy offer to walk me the short distance to the outhouse.
Getting to the outhouse was fine.
But the return trip?
I must have walked out a different door and turned in the wrong direction because two hours later, I still hadn’t found my way back to my cabin.
There I was in my little baby doll pajamas, going from cabin to cabin, hoping to find mine. Each time a counselor would give me directions to get back to my cabin. Not wanting to look any more foolish than I already did, I acted like I understood just fine. Off I would go, only to get more lost.
Finally I stumbled onto a cabin of boys, and that counselor brought me back to my group. I was lost for almost three hours.
Oddly enough I don’t remember ever crying or showing anyone just how terrified I was. Even at the age of 11, far from home, completely lost, I still wanted to look like I had it all together.
I was always terrified that people would think I was dumb.
Being dyslexic is never easy, but when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, it was extremely difficult. At times I felt so lost in school. I often felt as if I was on a different planet where everyone spoke another language.
I was desperate to find someplace where I belonged. Somewhere it didn’t require so much effort to fit in.
Who knew that the place I was looking for was the one that I would end up creating with a guy I met on a blind date 24 years ago this month?
Joe understood and listened to me when I said I couldn’t do something. Then he told me I could do it anyway. For the first time, I believed it.
“I can’t type.” “I can’t go to college.” “I can’t drive.” “I can’t blog.” Each of my fears was countered by a “Yes you can.” And then I did.
Learning to find my way home that day and all the subsequent other times I was lost, both literally and figuratively, has allowed me to teach our three children that they, too, can go wherever they want to.
Even when it feels impossible. Even when there are people saying that they can’t.
I know how hard it is to feel completely lost, and I know the joy when you find your way and realize you can do what you once thought was impossible.
I snapped out of my flashback and finished down the hill, Tom following right behind me. We soon found the path and my waiting dad. None the worse for the wear.
Tom couldn’t wait to do it again.
Neither could I.
*This piece was originally published on the Dishwasher on July 10, 2011, under the name, Finding My Way Home. It has been slightly edited.