Sometimes finding your way requires first getting lost

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

We found the sign because we were lost; a situation that occurs more often than I might wish. The dog is convinced she has directional gifts, but I happen to know she is almost always wrong. She starts down one path, I disagree, she insists. As a result, we are often lost.

I can’t speak for what she was thinking about as we wandered; my own thoughts took all the air. Irritation, intolerance and judgment occur constantly these days. This particular irritation was about the many news outlets covering the war. If they stopped sending expensive equipment and personnel to Ukraine separately, pooled their talent and donated the extra funds to emergency aide, the amount would likely be massive. Choosing among all these endless media options is like facing the unnecessary extravagance of a cereal aisle. The money could be far better spent. Could no one else see it clearly?

I was ready to argue the point with anyone, and distraction was probably how we became lost, though it could also have been the dog’s fault. One way or another, we had gone far off the trail.

We bushwhacked our way to the edge of a lake. There was a sign by the water; a collaborative message from the Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Protection. It was written in English, Spanish and Cambodian, above a drawing of a plated fish with silverware. The fish had an alarmed look in its one eye, and a menacing “X” had been drawn through it.

"Fish Contaminated," the sign said in small letters, and then, in larger ones underneath, "DO NOT EAT."

While the dog sniffed the lake, I looked more closely. Graffiti and rust covered the sign. I wondered when someone had last been here and whether they had appreciated the warning. Good advice is often not appreciated. None of the news outlets were taking mine.

Someone had pasted a sticker on the back of the sign. One edge was torn off, but the rest was readable. It looked like it might be more advice.


And under that, a sentence:

"We are all floating in space."

This is not quite correct. Many of us are not floating in space, but deliberately and literally losing ourselves, as a form of escape. We are in escape from our own animosity, rudeness, storms of judgment, rages on and off the roads, and the growing realization that too few in this world are willing to share it peaceably with others. We are also in escape from others who feel the same way. And while we are losing ourselves, we are also aware that we are the lucky ones. These irritations are worlds away from starvation and homelessness. For those whose circumstances are closer, floating in space would be a luxury.

Patience might be too much of a response to expect. But what if we could at least EMPATHIZ? Even without the last vowel, it might lessen the need to escape.

For instance, when I got down to it, none of the news outlets in the cereal aisle were deliberately denying funds to sufferers in Ukraine. My irritability was not for them, but for how overwhelming everything feels right now. We could cut a few more letters off the words, and start by trying to EMPAT one another. That would make the process even easier.

I heard a splash. Alarmed by something, my dog had suddenly leapt back from the water’s edge. Perhaps she was avoiding a fish, as the sign directed. Except for her sense of geography, she is a lovely girl; rarely irritable, never intolerant and not a bit rageful. I could learn to be a better human being from her, if I didn’t mind getting lost.

She shot me a glance to make sure I would follow, turned around, and started to head confidently in the wrong direction.

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Headshot of Elissa Ely

Elissa Ely Creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project
Elissa Ely is a community psychiatrist in Massachusetts and the creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project.



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