The Benefits of Getting Lost

Nothing awakens your eyes to a neighborhood like getting lost in it.

One evening after dinner, my kids and I decided to take a walk down a trail near our home.  We had lived in our home nearly a year, but never traveled far enough down this trail to see where it led.  The kids were in an especially skiphappy mood, so even though we were about to turn back when the path hit a cornfield, when we spotted a couple of women walking in the opposite direction, we decided to ask what we’d find if we traveled further.

“There’s a playground on the other end,” one woman informed us, and the kids took off with refreshed jet packs.

“The other end” turned out to be a good half hour later, so by the time we arrived the sun was already setting.

I had no idea where we were, and in fact the land we entered had a magically foreign feel totally unlike our own rural street.  We had emerged into a suburb neighborhood on the opposite side of farm fields, and the demographics here were clearly more diverse than the all-white middle-class handful of families on our own rural road.  I counted at least three languages spoken between kids and parents, and the playground swarmed with kids, unlike the bare playground at the end of our own street.  I enviously watched an all-ages soccer game and a gang of youngsters tossing basketballs.

Since then, we have returned to this playground several times.  I want my children to feel that this is as much our world as the farm kids that climb on their school bus.

Once I jogged up the trail alone, determined to figure out how to drive through the meandering suburb streets from the other side to reach it by car.  Sixty-five tiring minutes later, I had learned street names, greeted strangers, and deepened my own sense of belonging in that neighborhood.

In a world where we can easily zip to and from work on highways, duck quietly from garage to kitchen without emerging into public, and use Skype and Facebook to skip the driving all together when we miss a friend, getting lost in a new neighborhood is one way to force ourselves to look at what’s outside our window, and maybe even stop to talk to someone when we need directions home.

What ideas (accidental or otherwise) do you have about connecting with your neighbors?


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