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the gifts of getting lost, or how to ask

January 16, 2012

Here in Austin, there are innumerable scenic places to run.  The city boasts over 193 miles of well-surfaced scenic paths throughout, and runners, cyclists, and walkers of every age and ability fill them every weekend.  A favorite since I first lived in Austin back in 1996, the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail (a.k.a. The Trail at Lady Bird Lake) is both challenging and naturally beautiful.  A runner can simultaneously gaze at the downtown skyline and the calm waters of Town Lake, all the while breathing in the warm Texas sunshine.  A runner can run for three miles or for twenty, relishing the company of native birds and plant life.

A runner can also get very, very lost…  if she is me, that is.

This is because I can get lost anywhere, anytime, anyway, anyhow.  Look, there is no shortage of online maps of the Town Lake Trails.  While the trails are many and are marked with varying degrees of clarity, a reasonable person can figure out where he or she wants or needs to go.  Moreover, there are loads of people from whom to elicit help — the paths are choked with runners, with walkers, with little children on bikes and elderly men listening to I-pods.  In the shine of daylight, with zillions of fitness-minded citizens around, getting lost doesn’t feel remotely threatening.

Getting lost on the Town Lake Trail doesn’t feel like getting lost while running along a hilly, shoulderless rural road, a red pick-up truck inching alongside you, its occupants hurling empty beer cans at your shrinking form before it squeals off, a cloud of smoke and laughter.  It doesn’t feel like that.

No.  While getting lost running around Town Lake might make you miss church, or make you late for a four year-old’s birthday party, or make you run thirteen miles instead of your planned eight, it won’t cause permanent damage.

With confidence, I can say that getting really lost all of the time, while anxiety-provoking, is also humbling.

Getting lost is a teacher.

It instructs me, over and over again, to ask questions, to ask for help, to ask for direction… to run from assumptions, however ardently they chase me.  It wants me open and reverential.

And, while I don’t thrill at the image of my children displaced and wandering, I do want my kids to understand the power of asking.  When they are confused or lost or disturbed, I want them to care enough to ask.  I want them to take responsibility for their own understanding.

Incidentally, I must not have gotten this whole asking thing right yet, because I continue to be sent chances to practice.  Go figure.

On this, the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I offer this quotation by Dr. King: “Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”

Today, I hope you are sent opportunities to ask and to keep asking.  I hope we all keep trying to see beyond the shadows.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

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