While looking through pictures from a professor’s spring break travels to Poland, I came across one photograph that made me stop my browsing for a moment and then return to it after I had finished viewing the rest of the album. The photo is of a window in Lodz, Poland of what appears to be a restaurant, judging by the bar-style seating and the neon Coca-Cola sign in it. The window has large white letters on it that read:
YOU ARE NOT LOST. YOU ARE HERE.
I imagine that window could be unhelpful and insulting to passersby who really are lost and hurried to reach a destination that they can’t find. But I bet it’s also a pleasant message for travelers who are overwhelmed by the task of navigating a new city, a refreshing reminder to let the novelty and unfamiliarity of an uncharted place soak in. Sometimes travelers don’t need a destination; they just need to let themselves be where they are with no agenda other than to enjoy the now.
We’re all travelers, really, even those of us who sometimes feel stuck. Time is our road, the memories we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned our luggage, fulfillment and peace our destination
Yes, I just pulled out the ol’ “life is a journey” cliche. And one of the first lessons I learned in creative writing is to avoid those dang cliches.
Yet I always feel compelled to write about it because I feel like I’m always uncovering new implications of the metaphor and new wisdom that I had never before considered. Like that message on that window in Lodz, Poland.
YOU ARE NOT LOST. YOU ARE HERE.
We humans really like certainty and direction. We like planning and scheduling. It makes us feel like we’re in control. When things don’t go according to plan, or when the paths before us are darkened, we panic and figure that we must be failures or that we’re lost.
As if we ever really knew where we were going in the first place. I’m becoming convinced that it’s impossible to pin life down, despite all the calendars and schedulers that we invest in and all the care we put into mapping out our paths.
Heck, I began college with journalistic aspirations, switched to theology, and am now considering continuing my education someday to get an MFA in creative writing. That’s a pretty long way from the path I thought was set before me a few years ago, when I thought a career in ministry was my calling.
I wonder how much heartache and confusion we would be spared if we stopped looking at our lives the way we look at a Rand McNally atlas and decide to travel via the bold blue lines that indicate interstates, the fastest, most direct, and most predictable route. If we stopped thinking about our lives as a series of mile markers and destinations and took the time to consider the lessons that the Here and Now has to teach us.
Just because we can’t figure out where we are doesn’t mean we’re lost.
We can’t be lost if we don’t hold ourselves to such rigid expectations of what our lives should be. There are no wrong turns. Only opportunities. New places are an invitation to look around us for possibilities that we might never have dreamt of in our obsession with finding our destination. They’re life’s way of teaching us that we sometimes get too caught up in looking ahead when we should be looking at where our feet are planted now.
The intersection of our past choices and future hopes.
And yet a place of remarkable grace because Here doesn’t care as much about where we’ve been as much as it does where we can go from it. Our past doesn’t dictate our future.
A place brimming with potential and mystery if we only have the courage to uncover them and to follow where they might lead.