Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Getting Lost

I arrived a few days ago from London where I visited my husband, Allan, who was temporarily assigned there for work. So while he was slaving away in front of a computer, I bravely went on adventures around and outside of London by myself. 

One morning, on a whim, I decided to head for Windsor to see the castle. Without telling Allan, I planned my day trip and boarded the train for the 30-minute ride. I had it all mapped out- I would arrive in Windsor by 11:30 am and be done with the castle in two hours. Then I would have lunch in a tourist-friendly restaurant and then spend another hour walking around this beautiful town more than 20 miles away from the heart of London. 

While I was on the 10:50am First Great Western train, however, I sat near a very noisy family. Wanting so badly to soak in the sights, I tuned them out with my music. Unfortunately, I not only tuned the family out but I also failed to hear the announcement instructing passengers to change trains at a certain station. I stayed on the train and headed to Oxford instead of Windsor. 

I realized my blooper as soon as the doors at the Slough station closed. Initially I panicked. How was I to get back to Windsor when the train I was on was heading further and further from Slough? I decided I was going to hop off on the 2nd next station (because I was yet still too stubborn to get off that 1st station after Slough) and ask someone how to get back to Slough. I would pay for the fare difference, if needed, and ignore the added cost and lost time.

The more detailed I got into the recovery planning, the more I was filled with courage and strength that I never felt before. I sat in the train and grasped the enormity of my dilemma. I was lost in a foreign country where I’ve encountered not too many helpful folks. It was bad enough that I charted a course towards a distant destination, now I was headed to another more distant, more unfamiliar location. Years ago, I would have shuddered with fear and anxiety. But not today, I sat there a little scared but went back to listening to my music. 

I eventually got off on the next stop (Reading) looked for a Customer Service kiosk and asked a lady for return directions. It wasn’t going to be tough, she said. Just another train ride going back, no extra fees, just an additional one hour to my original travel time. “Don’t miss your stop this time- SLOUGH,” the woman said smiling.

I got to Slough alright and didn’t miss my transfer this time. I was in Windsor in ten minutes, maybe less. The deviation added an hour to my trip and changed my itinerary. i was unable to have lunch and didn’t get to explore the town as much as I had hoped.

Pardon the selfie. I was alone and had to document my adventure.

Sitting here, jet-lagged at 3am, I remember what the Customer Service lady said when she found out that I missed my transfer. She had a worried look on her face and said, “OH NO!” I just smiled and said, “it’s okay. It’s part of the adventure!” 

In my midlife, I learned to embrace the unexpected. I am now bolder as I face new challenges and adventures. It is actually true. When you’ve gone through so much in life, you are strengthened and hardened. In the greater scheme of things, what is getting lost in an English-speaking country compared to raising a baby in college? Or even handling separation from your husband in your mid 20’s? What is more scary- having no food to feed your child or asking directions, ready to use your cash or credit card? 

Finally at the Windsor castle. Boy, was it worth
the trip!

In traveling as with life, we get lost. How many times have I tuned out directions/instructions (from my parents, perhaps)? How often have I stubbornly chose to tread another path, another train line because I felt it was the better way? How much were the added costs I incurred for missed connections, wrong transfers, wrong planning? It is normal for people to get lost but (ask my parents) I’ve had more than my fair share. I did not only get lost, I was often “lost.”

It must have frightened my parents immensely, for example, when I had a two-year relationship with a man I fondly (not!) call SCARY. Scary face, scary personality, scary (lack of) morals, even scary use of the English language! At that time, I not only abandoned the train of my (first) husband, I even decided to get on the no amenities, cargo train called Scary. 

While I was on the ride, I had major adventures like hand-washing a man’s underwear for the first time in my life. What about having no money for food and so Scary had to gamble our few pesos to raise funds for our next meal? I guess the worst was using my car for hire just to raise gas money. That was the lowest. 

But I stayed on the train too long, two years. I hoped to reach a beautiful destination like Jamaica eventually but what I got was the tour of the city slums over and over again for two years. I experienced telenovela level drama like when he lied and said he was separated but was really not, so the wife came to my parents house and caused a scandal. There were some unbelievably corny plots such as when he came home very late one day and said that he was involved in an NBI shootout with his friend and I believed him. I even had some violence on the side- some crazy knife grabbing/struggling episode.  

Oh yes, it was scary. Scary was scary. My Scary episode was so mind-boggling that some of my friends thought I was a drug addict for going through it. I was not, of course, but I stayed in that relationship so long because I wanted it to finally work. I wanted to have my happy ending at last. But I didn’t and many years later I still did not find happiness. I took many more trains and got lost over and over again.

After years of getting lost, I eventually got it. The mistake is not that I lost my way. The tragedy was that I kept on getting on the wrong trains because I refused to listen and pay attention to the signs. In my rush to meet Mr. Right, I kept ending up with the wrong guy- Mr. Immature, Mr. Insecure, Mr. User and, yes, Mr. Scary. The journey took a lot longer than it should have. And the costs were enormous. But then that was another lesson learned.

I may have deviated so often in life. I may have lost myself many times. Looking back now, though, I don’t see misfortunes and catastrophes. I see them as adventures (some more “Indiana Jones” than others). What mattered was that I kept trying to get back on track. I kept chasing my ideal. I kept looking, hoping and praying for my happy ending.

I don’t know if I’m done with my journey. I’m in a good place right now. There’s not much more I can ask for. But my experiences have shown me repeatedly how uncertain the future is. The tracks may shift. I may already be in the Maldives now but may one day suddenly wake up in a less desirable place. 43 years of adventures has shown me that just like getting lost on my way to Windsor, I know I will always get myself back on track. 

Maybe next time I'll hop on a train to Hogwarts.

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