February 15, 2019 | Narrative
finding my way
embracing getting lost
The wind cut my hands sharply, but I could feel the rest of my body heating up under my heavy windbreaker. As I ascended the steep slope of College Hill, the few RISD shuttles I passed assured me that I was walking in the right direction. After a few more minutes of walking up the hill, sweat gradually enveloping my torso, Faunce Arch finally appeared in the distance to my right. At last, I knew that I wasn’t lost.
This memory of my first time climbing College Hill resurfaced when I met up with a younger high-school friend who visited a few weeks ago. As we walked down Thayer, my friend murmured something about navigating the hill between the train station and Brown’s campus. “I got so lost,” he complained. I nodded, thinking about the twists and turns along that hill and the same chilly January wind that I experienced on my first visit here two years ago. This path along the hill via Waterman has become my default route to walk between campus and downtown, but the halfway point where the slope suddenly rises still surprises me whenever I reach it.
Although I’ve had plenty of experience navigating busy street intersections and complicated subway systems through my past travels, my fear of getting lost persists. When my mom and I stepped off the airport shuttle in Hong Kong this past winter, we stood on the busy sidewalk, losing ourselves in figuring out how to get to our hotel. Google Maps indicated that there were some big brand-name stores near it, so I was hoping that their store signs would lead the way. After we turned the corner to reach the main street, a sea of neon lights surrounded us. Night hadn’t fallen yet, but most of the signs were already lit. Big brand names competed for attention and lowered my hopes of finding guidance.
My fingers were growing numb from dragging my suitcase across the bumpy sidewalk. Although the shuttle driver had told us just to keep walking in the same direction after turning, I felt disoriented. I pulled up Maps on my phone and spent a few minutes rotating the screen to match the orientation of the surrounding streets. I located some buildings on the map, but there seemed to be alleys in front of me that weren’t showing up on my screen. Or it could have been that we had already passed them.
My mom wanted to vacation with me in Hong Kong partially because of her nostalgia for the city. She had worked there briefly almost 30 years ago. As we waited for our shuttle, she was already planning to find her old apartment building. She knew that everything would look different, but she hoped that the soothing Victoria Harbour wind and the city’s dichotomous historical and innovative energies would remain for me to greet.
When we passed by the business cluster on our way to the hotel, I began to ponder about my career options a bit. Maybe I would someday work inside one of the banks whose signs shone down on me; maybe I would end up in another city, doing something I could never imagine. People hustled out of one of the bank’s revolving doors, trying to get home ahead of the rush-hour crowd; I wondered how they got to where they were.
Thanks to technology, it’s less likely that I find myself completely lost. I don’t feel much despair when I can’t find my way, knowing that the satellites high above the sky can (usually) locate me. With such easy access to navigation apps that lead me from place to place, I’ve tamed my fear of being physically lost. But getting lost navigating my future plans still feels unbearable.
After walking under the neon lights for what felt like an endless amount of time on that humid night, my mom and I eventually bumped into our hotel, which appeared unexpectedly on our right. The bus driver’s words rang like an afterthought as I opened the door to the hotel lobby—he was right about continuing to walk in the same direction. I just had to walk a little longer than I thought. Maybe my path for the future would also emerge unexpectedly. Maybe I just had to keep walking until I saw it more clearly.
I’ve always felt that a place is different before and after I visit it. During my first trip to Brown, I had to look up the path from Alumnae Hall to the Main Green. This path felt different when I walked it again two years later this past August. Maybe it was because the color of the scenery was warmer than that gray January afternoon when I first visited, but something about the route—its orientation and length—felt different too. When I speed-walked to Faunce on that chilly afternoon two years ago, I had no time to look at the buildings around me, no chance of realizing that this would one day become my daily walk. I didn’t notice the circle of foil dancers at the end of this walk the first time, but now, every morning when I pass by the statue, the dancers’ exaggerated gestures and overflowing sense of joy always remind me to smile and stay optimistic even during the busiest times of the semester.
I guess I won’t know a route until I have walked it. Finding the right turns happens only after I have ventured into the wrong alleys, puzzled over unfamiliar street signs, and retraced my steps to keep looking for my way.
My high-school friend and I stood at the intersection in front of the Ratty. He wanted to know more about the open curriculum and the amount of freedom it grants. “With so many choices, what if you get lost?” he asked me when I pointed to our right to indicate that we had to turn to reach the dining hall. The wind made my face stiff, but I managed to smile at his question. “I’m sure we’ll all find our paths in the end, one way or another.”