Did you know that I-65 runs from northern Indiana practically to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico? Or did you know that there are two times zones just in the city of Indianapolis? Or that there is a Bowling Green, Ohio, and a Bowling Green, Kentucky? I do. It’s my own little superpower. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m a ROAMer. That’s Readers Of Any Map (and yes, I just made up that cute little acronym…). We’re a rather secret society, drawn to any map within 100 yards like a mosquito drawn to your pale, exposed flesh in the July sun. But I can’t help but ponder: Do maps imitate life? If your life were a map, what would it look like? But more than that, is it even possible to chart your life in a clear and predictable order?
I’ve been fascinated with maps since I donned barrettes as a wee school girl. By maps, I don’t mean those imitations you can readily get on Mapquest or those GPS thingies. Those are fake, or at the very least, maps for novices. I’ve spent many a car trip huddled in the back seat with a sprawling atlas draped over my lap. I became transfixed, lost in a world of places and monuments. It was as if I dived head-first into that atlas. The smooth white pages. The colors — blues for the lakes, greens for the forests and browns for the mountains. I marveled at the open expanse of Montana. My eyes glimmered at the bustling eastern seaboard. And my heart beat just a little extra when I stumbled upon a black dot next to my hometown. I even thought of the people in each town. Who they were. What they did. What life was like in a town of 500 people. Yes, I had an intimate relationship with my maps.
And then my mind would naturally wander to the topic of life. Life, in all its splendid forms, is simply one giant map. Looking. Searching. Finding. Losing direction. It’s all part of the tango of life. Like maps, life is about exploration. In the grand journey of life, you’re not so much looking down the stretch of highway aiming for one — and only one — destination. It’s about exploring what you see on that highway. Taking a trek down the unbeaten path to explore a new relationship, perhaps. Discovering a hidden passion. Even something as simple as sampling a vegetarian meal, which I did a few weeks ago and actually enjoyed. It’s in those moments when you take the most chances that you’re able to truly find out who you are.
But other times, like maps, you find your life in the cracks or the creases of the map. You can’t exactly see where you’re going. You feel lost. You may even feel scared as you lose your sense of direction. The sun is setting. It’s getting dark. And nothing around you looks even remotely familiar. But just as you meticulously smooth out that rough map, before long, you see the city lights looming over the horizon. You breathe a sigh of relief as you instinctively know you’re back on track. Like maps, sometimes you’re all by yourself, like a desolate spot in the Arizona desert. Other times, like in New York City, you’re surrounded by people. You welcome them with open arms, laughing into the wee hours of the morning with friends or having intimate Sunday brunch chats with your mother over a cup of hot coffee. You realize a good balance of the two is exactly what you need.
Like maps, sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can’t easily fold up your life. Like that pesky atlas, you fold one side of your life over, but it doesn’t fit. So you try to fold the other side. That doesn’t fit either. After much frustration, you come to the conclusion that life can’t always be folded into a cute little pink bow. Sometimes it’s uncertain. Sometimes it’s messy. And most of the time, it’s complicated. You have no choice but to move forward, even if you have a few loose ends dangling from your side. But those life maps you cling to so tightly? They’re only a guide — a framework, if you will. You can do everything to be in control, to chart your course the way you want. You pack up your metaphorical car and begin your journey. For awhile, it’s smooth sailing. Then you come to a fork in the road. But remember: Behind every great map, there’s an equally great story. A lesson to be learned at every pit stop and scenic overlook. Are you brave and daring enough to flip through that daunting atlas and see where it takes you?
[Photos via We Heart It]