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?

  • Stephanie Spencer

    A few things I love about this post:
    1. Your description of your kids as being in a “skiphappy mood.” I’m going to steal that terminology. Love it.
    2. The way your family fights hard against the rushed and frantic pace of our culture. Many, I think, would not feel they had the time to “get lost” down a path.
    3. Your intentionality in returning to this park and getting to know your neighborhood.

    We are thrilled to have kids in the house next door to us, finally. Our new house is the first time this has happened. The kids are a 9 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. Even though I have two boys, 5 and 2, they seem to find ways to play together. Something about being neighbors brings kids together that might not play with each other in different contexts. Yesterday, the 9 year old was out raking leaves in his yard and Cameron was raking leaves in ours. Cameron invited him to come over so they could make a bigger leaf pile together. They proceeded to rake and jump and imagine for the better part of an hour. It was fantastic. We hope for more. Next on our list? Having them over for dinner. Time to transition from yards to houses.

  • Jody Berkey

    Like Stephanie, I like your “skiphappy” terminology too. I can visualize it :)

    We recently moved to a new town for a 13-week work placement for my husband. Since we’ve minimized our lives over the past six months, I’m now staying at home full time with our three year old son, and we’ve downsized to one car for the first time in our married lives. Since my husband needs our car for his job, I am carless all day. It’s actually been wonderful. We’ve walked all over the place. Walking has given us the opportunity to see the town at a much slower pace and in more vivid detail. It’s been a wonderful blessing.

  • Jess Fick

    My husband and I were talking about doing some “freezer meals” together with one of our neighbors as a way to bond and care for our families by making food ahead of time. Our sons walk together to school which is also pretty fantastic.