Luke 15:24: “This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
I don’t know if you have a good sense of direction, or think you do or would like to. I believe I have one, most of the time, and that usually works out well when we go someplace we haven’t been to. We’ve worked out an arrangement: Becky drives and I navigate. I don’t like to drive, so I feel as if I’m trading my services for a nice carefree ride. And all this works out well. Usually.
When it doesn’t work out, I adopt the method most men use to figure out where we are, and that is to continue driving no matter how far until we see something familiar. Of course, we could stop and ask directions, but my reputation as a path finder is at stake. In most cases, we do eventually we stop and ask before I’m thrown out of the car.
The worst case of my losing my way came when we were in Vermont a few years ago for a destination wedding. For some reason, I couldn’t find anything for at least two days. Then it was like something snapped into place: I regained my bearings, and all the little woodland creatures danced in the forest glades and flying ponies circled overhead. All was right with the world, but not before I had given “directions” for two days that took us miles out of our way, usually late at night during a rainstorm. You know.
This instance of geographic confusion is not the worst I have seen, however. That distinction belongs to a kindly lady in her mid-seventies that I’ll call Mabel, whom I encountered a couple of weeks ago when I went to pick up some cat treats at the Walgreens down the street.
Anyhow, I pulled into a parking space and started for the store when Mabel came up in a big silver Kia van. “Excuse me,” she said. “Can you tell me how to get to CVS? I think I left my glasses there.”
I assumed she wanted the closest CVS so I told her, “Go out of here to the light, turn left, and go through five stop lights, counting this one. The CVS will be after the fifth light, on your right.”
She started to repeat my directions. “Go to the light and turn right…”
“No, no, no!” I interrupted. “You turn left!”
“I turn left?”
“So I go out of here and turn right…”
I could see this was getting me nowhere, so I pulled out my notebook. “Here,” I said, “I’ll write the directions for you.”
“I’d be grateful,” she told me.
I wrote out the directions, went over them with her one more time and told her I would watch to make sure she went the right way. She thanked me, put her van in gear, pulled out of the lot and got into the wrong lane at the light, facing traffic. I could envision a spectacular low-speed head on collision.
I ran over to her van, shouting, “Back up! Back up! Back up!” She smiled and waved, not understanding what I was telling her. Finally she caught on to what I wanted and put the window down.
“Yes, what is it you wanted?”
“YOU’RE IN THE WRONG LANE,” I shouted. “YOU NEED TO BACK UP AND GET IN THE RIGHT ONE!”
“I need to what?”
“You need to—” I stopped. Obviously she was so confused she would not be able to back up. I made a decision.
“Let me drive you over to CVS.” I figured getting in a van with a woman I didn’t know was less of a risk to public safety than letting her try to find her way over to the store.
There’s not much to the rest of the story. I drove her over to CVS, and we and the staff looked for her glasses and didn’t find them. As we came out of the store, she asked me how I was going to get home. I hesitated. “Uh, my car is at Walgreens.”
So we got back to Walgreens, and, assuring me that she knew where she was going and could drive there safely, she drove off. I had tried to get her neighbors’ names from her, thinking I could talk to them about her confusion, but I couldn’t do that. I finally called the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department and asked them to stop by and see if they thought she should still be driving. They did and she still is.
I also asked her to call me when she got home. She called later and we had a nice conversation, and then she said something that brought me up short. “I would like it if you called me about once a week. I don’t have family in the area or know that many people to talk to.”
I said I would, and I think this episode turned out all right, but I was thinking how lost we all can be sometimes, ignoring the best efforts of our family and friends to set us right. And I think that in the worst cases, when we don’t know where to go or how to get there, God knocks on the window of our van and says, “Get into the passenger seat. I’m driving now, and you may be sure I’ll get us both there safely.” And God does just that. Amen.