Today is my baby brother's birthday. He's at the Minnesota State Fair which his wife says is his most favorite way to spend his special day. As kids, we used to go to that Fair and my dad would walk around for hours on Machinery Hill. I remember sitting in the wheel well of a huge tractor with tires the size of Wyoming (when you're five, everything is really big and they offered a small child shade!) waiting for him to stop talking tractors or bailers or plows with other farmers from the region. And Implement dealers, of course.
It was at the Minnesota State Fair when I was five that I got lost for the very first time. We were on the midway with the lights and sounds and smells like a circus and my parents stopped to talk to someone they knew. My mom dropped my hand and I wandered off to explore this world of sparkling beauty or what I could see of it through the forest of legs and knees. Sometimes there'd be a break in the crowd and I didn't have to look up to the sky but could find a clown walking the midway or hear the hawkers pulling people in to throws balls at bottles.
It was night.
I turned around and realized I wasn't anywhere near my parents. My little heart started to pound as I realized I didn't know where I was. The panic of a five year old set in as all the legs around me now looked like bars keeping me from escaping. But I had nowhere to escape too, no idea where I'd been when I left my parents behind.
When we were in Spain several years ago, I got turned around, too. But I was a grown up now and knew that to do. I looked for the nearest kiosk. Barcelona sported many of the big signs to help tourists identify what site they stood at. The sign with the arrows read Esta Aqui. It means "You are here." You know those signs. They have them in big malls to help orient shoppers.
Because I knew where I was, I could find where I needed to go to make my way back to the hotel. (I think I was alone in the first place seeking an internet cafe to get my emails....otherwise Jerry or one of our traveling friends would have been with me). So knowing where I was got me to where I wanted to go.
I haven't forgotten the concept of Esta aqui. I once filled in for our pastor while he traveled and gave a presentation based on the concept of knowing, admitting, acknowledging where we are in life being important in our lives if we want to take a healthy next step, if we want to allow God to intervene in our lives.
It fits for people struggling with overweight, for example. You can't figure out what to do about it until you admit that you are here, overweight. Or that a relationship is going sour. You can't intervene or change it unless you admit that it is. Avoiding, pretending, filling our days with busy work or Facebook (yes, Facebook does have more than social networking implications :), cleaning even taking care of others, getting involved in other peoples' problems hoping to help solve them rather than face our own, all of those behaviors can keep us from admitting Esta Aqui.
The people I write about, those I've come to admire like Emma Giesy, Jane Sherar, Jessie Gaebele, Asiam, Marie Dorion, Ivy Stranahan, even Cassie Hendricks Stearns Simpson, came to a point in their lives where they understood that in order to make a change or find a way through their challenge or pain, they had to admit where they were. Esta Aqui.
In one of the novels, All Together in One Place, I have a character named Tipton. She's representative of many a young woman who traveled the Oregon Trail with romantic dreams in her head and her heart. And when her fiancé died, her way of dealing with it was to "go away" in her head. refusing to eat, anesthetizing herself, even hyperventilating.
A friend of mine who read those books told me she thought I was a certain character and named her (Mazy). I said yes, I was a part of Mazy but I was a part of all the characters in the book. "Not Tipton," she said. "You couldn't avoid life like she did."
"Oh, but I could. And did," I told my friend. I never refused to eat (I ove-rate instead) but anesthetizing myself with work so I could sleep whenever I wasn't at work, even the hyperventilating was a way I'd found myself dealing with loss, fear, grief. And I sometimes wairft waaaay too long to admit my poor problem-solving or admit where I was and that only made it worse in the end.
Like Tipton I had to finally say Esta Aqui. I had to acknowledge that the pain I'd experienced wasn't going to go away just because I pushed it down. I needed to grief the loss, the struggle, and admit where I was. Then I could go forward.
At five years of age, I didn't have all that complicated emotional awareness to either stuff down or bring up. At five, scared and lost at the Minnesota State Fair, I was able to remember something my dad had told me "if you get lost." He said, "Stay where you are when you realize we're not with you then look for a police office. He'll help you."
It was good advice. I tried not to cry. I looked around and spied a man in uniform and made my way to him, just a few feet from where I was. I tugged on his pant leg and he knelt down to ask what I needed, his club attached at his waist touching the ground as he knelt. I told him I was lost and he stood up and took my hand. "Let's see if we can find your folks," he said. "My dad's real tall," I told him. "And I left him back that way." I pointed hoping I knew which way I'd wandered.
We took maybe ten steps. The crowd parted and there stood my parents. "There they are!" I shouted as gleeful as if I'd been lost for days instead of minutes and just found my way home.
"There you are," my Dad said.
I hugged my his legs. "I did what you said. I knew I was lost and looked right away for a policeman."
"She did everything right," the officer said.
The relief was overpowering. I knew where I belonged and there I was.
As odd as it seems, the one time I got very lost while flying as a student on one of my cross country flights, I was told later by the Tower guys that I'd done "everything right. You knew you were lost, still had lots of fuel and went up high enough above the mountains so Seattle could track you and take you in. So many people wait until they're almost out of gas or are so low we can't find them on radar to vector them to the nearest airport."
As Jerry and I prepare for an extended trip to Greece this month, I'm hoping there'll be kiosks telling us where we are. I'm hoping we'll find joy in this journey into a totally new and interesting country and culture. We have a few days in Athens to visit ruins then a week in Crete at the beach then a five day cruise of the islands. It's strictly a vacation! We're traveling with two sisters (no, not nuns, two women who are related to each other!) whom we traveled to Barcelona with years ago and to Canada with last year. We won't' have a GPS with us like we did in Canada where Jerry drove with a GPS and three women giving him directions and lived through it! But we will have each other, friends keeping each other from getting lost so we'll know what to do to get back home.
Shortly before we leave, I will post a terrific interview with one of my all time favorite authors, Sandra Dallas. I love her work and adore her as a person. She has a fine sense of humor and is one of the most skilled writers of both fiction and non-fiction that I know. She's agreed to be my second author interview on my blog. Francine Rivers' interview is still posted. Reading it will inspire your days.
Have a great September and I'll meet you again in October.