Sunday, November 13, 2011

My friend, Carole

I love to travel. I enjoy the adventure of it, the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and see how other people live out their dreams. In particular, I love car trips, whether I'm driving or a passenger. It's fun to look into other people's cars as we pass one another on the road, speculating as to where they've been, where they are going, and what is the relationship between the occupants of their vehicle. Are they just carpooling home from work, or a family on vacation? If the latter, are they enjoying themselves, or just enduring the ride until they reach their destination and can answer that ubiquitous question: "Are we there yet?" in the affirmative? (BTW, we love how Daddy Incredible answers that question with, "We'll get there when we get there!")

We had the opportunity last summer to take a road trip up the East coast, from Charlotte NC to Washington DC, for a family wedding. We'd rented a van which came equipped with a GPS system, which we named Carole. With an e. She just seemed like a Carole, with an e. And Carole became the seventh member of our family on that trip. We loved how well informed she was when it came to traffic patterns, helping us navigate around DC's early morning rush hour by directing us to surface roads that were moving along at a more brisk pace. We loved her ability to think fast, coming up with alternate routes when we missed a turn. Which happened fairly often. She seemed to be very patient, like a loving parent dealing with a frustrated child attempting a difficult math assignment. Okay, bad example. More like the loving parent I wish I could be, dealing with a frustrated child! Carole had a very calm voice and an easy-going manner that gave us the confidence to explore a bit, knowing that if we got lost, Carole always knew where we were and, if we provided her with a correct address, she knew how to get us back on track. We loved Carole, and we were very sad to let her go at the end of our trip.

Because we had Carole, I felt very comfortable volunteering to drive to the Baltimore airport to retrieve family members who had flown in for the wedding, which was at the Washington DC temple. I simply plugged in the destination, and Carole not only knew exactly where the airport was, but she directed me straight to the parking lot designated as a waiting area for arrivals. My son rode with me, and we chatted happily for the half hour or so that the drive took. I enjoyed having the time with my son, and didn't worry about getting lost because I knew Carole would take care of me. And she did. We picked up Uncle Steve and Aunt Donna, and started the trek back to the temple. It was rush hour and, true to form, Carole directed me around the traffic and got us speedily on our way. Uncle Steve was very impressed, as he had his own GPS with him and had turned it on, plugging in the address of the temple, only to be directed straight into the heart of rush hour traffic. I told him that I had complete confidence in Carole, and would be following her directions unwaveringly so he could just put his own GPS away for the duration of the ride! He complied, and commented several times his wonder at the ease with which I was able to get us to the temple, as neither of us was native to the area. It was Carole, I told him. My friend, Carole. I loved her comforting presense, her confident voice, her knowledge that seemed to have no limit. If machines do end up ruling the world, I hope they are all as nice as Carole!

Later that night, after the wedding and post-wedding dinner, Uncle Steve and Aunt Donna were looking for a ride back to the airport. I and my family would be headed in the opposite direction, but another relative was on her way to New Jersey, so it made sense for her to drop them off on her way. Uncle Steve was unhappy with the arrangement, however, as he'd developed so much confidence in my ability to get wherever I needed to go. Misplaced confidence, I told him! Without Carole, I'd have wondered hopelessly, much like the Israelites under the direction of Moses! Uncle Steve sent Theresa, his new driver, over to my table to get explicit directions back to the airport, concerned that she had never been there before and would not be able to find the way. She asked how I'd gotten to the airport, to which I replied that I'd followed Carole's instructions. She then asked, with a hint of frustration in her voice, "But which freeway did you take, the 95 or the 495?" I laughed and told her that I had no idea.... I really didn't know. Theresa must have thought I was a complete idiot. She quizzed me for a couple of minutes, trying to help me remember something about the trip. I couldn't. I'd had such confidence in Carole that I hadn't paid attention to my surroundings at all, completely missing the sights along the way, not even knowing which road I was on. In my defense, I had also concentrated on my conversation with my son, which I wouldn't have been able to do had I been trying to figure out which way to go on my own. But, if anyone were to ask me what Baltimore looks like, I'd have to say that I don't have any idea. I was there, yes, but I didn't see anything. I missed the journey, though I arrived at the destination safely and on time.

Back in my younger days, I spent a few months working in Boston. Carole would have come in handy there, as the city streets are based on the cow paths that meandered along in pre-revolutionary war days. What an adventure I had trying to find my way around! Once, on a sight-seeing trip, my fellow-travelers and I circled Harvard square three times trying to find the way out of Cambridge. On another day, I was taking some visiting friends back to the airport and became hopelessly lost. As I drove through downtown Boston looking for the route to the airport, the driver behind me flashed his lights and honked. I pulled over, thinking I'd made him mad, becoming very concerned when he pulled over behind me and got out of his car. I thought maybe he was going to come beat me up for my idiotic driving! But no, he came up to my window and very kindly asked if I was lost. I asked what gave him that idea, to which he replied, "The map on your steering wheel." Oh, yeah, that. He gave us directions, then, seeing the still confused look on my face, offered to guide us to the airport himself. We followed him as he successfully got us to our destination. My friends and I have laughed about that for years, marveling at the kindness of a stranger who went out of his way to help us find our way. If I'd had Carole, I'd have missed out on that experience.

I recently reconnected with an old friend, and found that she is sharing my current spiritual path. In an email earlier this year, she confided: "I'm finding it interesting how many decisions I have let the Church make for me in my life. It is a little overwhelming to make decisions based on what I think instead of what the Church tells me to think. It is freeing - and frightening. So many things I am rethinking, and it will take time to figure it all out. It is nice to allow myself to think...... I have a strange mix of ideas and feelings." When I read this, I thought of Carole and my trip to Baltimore. Having the Church dictate to me the path to righteousness and salvation was, in a way, easy. Make one decision, that the Church is true and it's leaders inspired, and the rest comes fairly effortlessly. I realize that I'm oversimplifying the situation, and my experience in the church is not, I repeat NOT, everyone's. But, for me, plugging in the address (exaltation and eternal life with God), then following the Church's directions, was safe and comfortable. If I follow the directions, I'm assured that I'll reach the destination. No independent thinking required. Again, NOT everyone's experience. But that is how it felt to me. And I think I missed a lot along the way. Instead of enjoying the adventure of the journey, I was too focused on the destination. I don't want to get to the end of this life, and not recall the sights, the sounds, the sheer joy of mortal life. I'm relishing the opportunity to figure this stuff out for myself, to decide what makes sense, and how I want to express my spirituality. Yeah, there is a risk that I'll get lost, but there is also the chance that I'll meet some interesting strangers and have funny misadventures that will amuse me in my golden years.

I miss Carole, and sometimes I miss the simple assurance of 'knowing' my post-mortal destination. On the other hand, I feel freer to look around now, to take my time, and experience what life has to offer, to meet kind strangers who may or may not know the way but nevertheless will have something interesting to add to my journey. Next time I'm in Baltimore, I'm looking around!