I remember getting lost in the woods when I was about 7 years old.
I had gone with my mom to visit one of her friends, and her friend’s house overlooked a wooded area. As my mom talked with her friend, I snuck outside to play with her friend’s dog.
(For those who know me, that action shouldn’t be surprising. I still avoid human interaction in favor of playing with dogs.)
After about five minutes, the dog evidently got bored playing with me and it took off into the woods. I sprinted after it, stumbling down the hill that sloped into the wooded valley behind the house. I had to continually look down to avoid the branches that were threatening to trip me. In the process, I lost sight of the dog; its golden fur blended perfectly into the fall foliage.
Unable to spot my reluctant canine companion, I decided to resign my search and head back toward the house. The problem: I had no idea how to get back to that house. Every direction looked the same — just a bunch of bare trees and piles of orange, yellow, and red leafs.
For what seemed like hours — it was only about ten minutes, I paced up and down the hill. I would reach the top, discover I didn’t recognize the surroundings, and then retreat into the valley.
I felt my heart rate accelerate as I watched the sun fall lower and lower in the sky. It would soon be dark, and the serene valley would turn into a nefarious abyss.
Exhausted, I eventually crouched down next to a creek. The creek was only about a foot wide and a couple inches deep. I dipped my tiny hands into the water and splashed it on my face, mixing it with sweat and tears.
It was at that moment, after I had exerted all of my anxious energy trying to find my way out, that I began to feel calm. And then, that calmness turned into relief, excitement. I was, for the first time in my young life, totally in charge of all my actions. I didn’t have anyone to dictate how I should act. It was all me; finding my way out was all on me.
I felt terrified and exuberant.
I realized only recently that I’ve had that cocktail of terror and exuberance several times in my life. It’s the mixture of feeling scared to be lost and feeling excited to be found.
I think that’s what life is: a series of feeling lost and then finding yourself. After all, can you ever truly find something if it weren’t lost in the first place? How do we expect to find ourselves if we never feel lost?
My mom eventually found me that day in the woods. I remember watching her trip over a fence as she raced to me. She enveloped me in her arms and just held my body against her chest. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
And that’s what keeps me going when I feel lost. I know that that happiness I felt that day is just around the corner. I know feeling lost is just one step behind feeling found. I know I will find myself… I’ll just have to feel a little lost first.