North Star

I have a fantastic sense of direction. Hand me a map and a travel guide and before wheels ever touch the ground, I can navigate a city. I’m not too proud to ask for assistance. I will stop at gas stations and buy road maps. My difficulty arises….nay, my undoing, is heading confidently into a place certain that I know where I am going only to encounter a road block or detour. When things CHANGE and all my best laid, careful plans are disrupted is when the turmoil starts. You feel it coming, creepy crawly from the periphery….panic.

Yesterday, after leaving the conference, I headed out with my trusty Google map and written directions on how to get from my hotel on International Drive to a quilt store on East Colonial Drive. Downtown Orlando. I am not intimidated by big cities. I grew up in Miami and could navigate that southern part of my state with aplomb. Easy peasy. I lived and have returned to Washington, DC enough times that I am pretty fearless. I could return to Rome or Florence without hesitation or San Francisco and even cities in which I have been transiently lost, like Denver or Chicago. But getting lost…or rather not ending up where I intend to go…creates panic.

It’s a control issue. Tell me something I don’t know.

But yesterday when the the street numbers started at low double digits and I needed 5953, I sensed trouble loomed ahead. When the directions said, take a SHARP LEFT TURN and continue on SR 50 and up ahead I saw a 4 split fly over, I bravely forged the artery that said E.Colonial Drive. The street numbers jumped from 4000 to 6000. I felt like I had been on Platform 3 3/4. And I came undone.

I hate feeling helpless. And I have no recourse other than to calm down and get my shit together. No one is coming to help or rescue. No State Farm agent pops out upon me singing for assistance. A great existential dilemma. I am alone and have slammed into wall. Usually, I just ride it out. The storm passes. Yesterday, it was as if the Hoover Dam splintered with hairline cracks and sprang fine leaks across its vast surface. Not only was I panicked about being lost, but all the other squirreled away nuts of worry and dis-ease rattled behind the wall and threatened to flood the terrain for miles and miles. The HWY428  toll road was not the ideal place to pull a Toonce’s The Driving Cat impersonation.

I have had the good fortune to have people in my life who respond when I call. Even better, I have a few people that sense my distress and show up long before I call. Sailors at seas follow the North Star. A childhood friend who shares (or recognizes) some of my distress issues sent me Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. It was an unexpected gift, a life line. I have a “phone a friend” lifeline and I have used those on occasion, too. In the last three years, these events have happened while I am off trekking with company and there is no better litmus test for a new friendship than for someone to see you lose your shit. For all my bravada and gumption, I shake in my boots as easy as anyone.It’s brief but it ain’t tiny. These are not tiny tremors….these are the Richter shakes that even an immune San Fransciscan would stops and say…”that was an earthquake”. Knick knacks and chachkes on shelves shift. They’re brief and happen with no warning.

Could I get a GPS device? I HAD directions. I was prepared. I did plan. THAT is a prerequisite for occurrence. Could I take anxiety meds? By the time it would kick in, the panic will be receding and then I’d just feel stoned….and I was always the jittery, paranoid party member and thus why I never ‘partook’. I rarely follow the norm or expected, even with recreational or illicit endeavors and why decades ago, they lost any allure.

I know these things. They’re are no Sirens, singing me off course, determined to dash me upon the craggy rocks. I have decent equipment; I’m well-trained and experienced. I’m no rookie, novice journeyman. I am an explorer by nature, curious, inquisitive and eager to discover (new place abroad and new facets of myself). I am a tough little cookie. An intimate once described be as a off-road Ferrari. It’s a descriptive I adore! And not everyone can handle a Ferrari….or a Land Rover. Some people are afraid to leave the illuminated 4-lane interstate central artery that transects the state….much less baja across a desert or swamp….or walk across the Key Bridge. They are hesitant, filled with trepidation and restricted by the unknown.

While it is true that they probably never have white knuckled, rattling, hyperventilating panic attacks in foreign cities…..but they also never see beyond the bubble, the glittery facade created for the tourists or visitors. I love discovering the beauty in the ordinary. And I know now where in Orlando to shop for Vietnamese groceries, get a Thai massage, fly out of the Orlando Executive Airport (ORL) as opposed to the Orlando International Airport (MCO) or visit a large county library in a previous strip mall. I know how to ride a bus into the outskirts of Denver to the super Walmart…and the bus line was safe, filled with hardworking people headed home from their jobs in the big city.

I’ll take the panic. I will use my phone-a-friend life lines. I will give thanks to my glorious friends who know my heart, watch the Little Earthquakes and love me regardless…maybe love me more for sharing my vulnerability and authenticity…and who don’t criticize or mock my nadir. They let me be weak, they know my Achilles’ heel and do not taunt. And in their permission…I learn to forgive myself for not being perfect.

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