Last week, Andy and I got to to go Venice. And in Venice, we learned a thing or two about wandering.
J. R. R. Tolkien famously said, "Not all who wander are lost." But I wonder if he had ever been to Venice.
We'd heard that getting around Venice could be confusing, so we had maps.
We had the Rick Steves book on Italy, which includes two hand-drawn maps of Venice and a large fold-out map of several cities in Italy, including Venice.
And, as soon as our train pulled up in Venice, we went straight to the Tourist Information kiosk and bought the official Venice street map, which unfolds in thirds, and then in 11ths, yielding 33 total panels chronicling streets, alleys, squares, churches, palaces, hotels, and, of course, canals. It's practically life-size.
We also had with us Andy, who has human GPS software installed in his brain. He is never, ever lost.
Beyond all these paper and human resources, we had Andy's cell phone with its handy-dandy map app.
I say all this to prove that we were well-mapped in Venice.
And yet, we were constantly lost.
The streets on the maps had names. The streets in real life did not.
The streets on the maps had straight lines and recognizable corners. The streets in real life did not.
The maps were no help. Andy was disoriented like I've never seen him before.
And even the cell phone, three or four stories down in the bottom of an alley too narrow to open an umbrella, threw up its hands in exasperation and told us to check back with it in Rome.
When we asked locals for directions, they would gesture vaguely and say, "Italian words."
If we pointed and said, "San Marco?" they would smile and say, "Italian words." If we pointed the other direction and said, "San Marco?" they would smile and say, "Italian words."
It's an island, so I guess it doesn't matter which way you go. Walk long enough, you'll get there, one way or the other.
After three days of trying to understand the relationship between Map Venice and Real Venice, I am here to tell you that the most accurate representation of Venice, map-wise, would be a plate of spaghetti. Deliciously tangled.
Of course, Venice is so beautiful that it was hard to care that we were lost all the time. After a while, we just went with it. We were lost. So freaking what.
The one and only thing Venice offers, by way of directional aid, is a few signs at some corners, with arrows, saying "Per Rialto."
That means "Toward Rialto."
I think. Otherwise, it seriously explains more about why we were lost all the time.
The Rialto is the famous covered bridge/mini mall that every manjack tourist of Venice wants to cross. They figure that anybody who needs directional help probably wants to go to the Rialto. So that's the sign they give you.
As we wandered around Venice, I was reminded of how much I like clear direction.
And yet, despite my best efforts, life so often turns out like that dang plate of spaghetti.
No road map matches up to the streets I'm wandering.
No recognizable land marks direct me on my way.
But every once in a while, I get this little sign: TOWARD.
And I'm starting to think that's supposed to be enough.
When I think about wandering TOWARD, there are four places I want to turn.
I want to turn toward myself.
- I don't mean this in a selfish way. I mean it in an honest way.
- I turn toward honesty and vulnerability within myself, first of all.
- I turn toward myself first, so that I can bring my real self toward others.
I want to turn toward God.
- Whatever is in me, the real me, I bring that to God.
I want to turn toward my loved ones, my community.
- Whatever is in me, the real me, I bring toward those are trustworthy and loving in my life.
I want to turn toward a hurting world.
- The nourishment I receive in turning toward God and my community empowers me to turn toward the needy.
Now, I think all of these are great turns to take, but not one of them guarantees that I will come out where I expect or want. I just don't get to have that kind of control. Life is a dang plate of spaghetti.
But I've noticed that making these turns TOWARD does lessen the panic and increase the peace, even when I am still wandering.
I wrote a post a couple of years ago with this quote I love so much:
"We are born to love as we are born to die, and between the heartbeats of those two great mysteries lies all the tangled undergrowth of our tiny lives. There is nowhere to go but through. And so we walk on, lost, and lost again, in the mapless wilderness of love." Tim Farringon
And life, like Venice, has endless moments of pure joy and beauty, even when we are lost, over and over, in the mapless spaghetti plate of love.