“Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not where you’re supposed to be?” I asked my friend. We were driving home from the county fair. I love the fair. Everyone walks around, funnel cakes in hand, gazing at the farm animals contentedly. There’s something satisfying in the simplicity of it all.
But the thing about simplicity is that it makes you think about things that are quite the contrary, quite muddled, quite complicated.
“What, you think we’re lost?” my friend said, looking left and right at the road signs.
“No,” I said. Then I looked around myself. “Wait, are we?”
“I don’t think so. I’ve done everything the GPS told me to. Says we should be home in about 8 minutes.”
“Oh, well that’s good. But it’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?”
“I meant like cosmically. Like in the grand scheme of life, do you ever feel like you aren’t in the right place? Lost sort of?”
“I dunno,” he said. “Maybe. But everyone sorta feels that way at some point.”
“Yeah, I know, but that doesn’t help,” I said. “Unless someone can tell me how to not be lost. You think anyone can tell me how to do that?”
He chuckled the sort of chuckle one chuckles when one is asked if they think the Buffalo Bills will win the Super Bowl this year.
“Lemme ask you this,” he said. “Do you think there’s a particular place you’re supposed to be? Like there’s a set life plan?”
“What, like fate?”
“No,” I said, gazing out the window. “Well maybe. I dunno. I can’t say I guess. But don’t you ever feel out of place? Hazy almost, like there’s this clear part of life, this part you’re supposed to understand, that’s hiding from you.”
“Sure,” he said. “I guess so. Like I said, I think everyone feels that way sometimes.”
“So how do you fix it?”
“Yeah, you know, how do you make it feel less like you’re wandering around and more like you have a GPS?”
“Shit, I dunno. How do you fix any of life’s problems? You live, you wait, and you hope that things better. Just don’t worry about it so much. Things will work themselves out.”
I adjusted the air vents on my side of the car so they more squarely air conditioned my forehead. It was hot, and sweat squeezed out of the pores on my face.
“Things will work themselves out?” I said.
I turned and looked at him, half waiting for him to say something more. “That’s helpful” I said with a subtle roll of the eyes.
My friend chuckled again and turned on the radio. A Rolling Stones song quietly played throughout the car.
“Well, I’m sorry,” he said. “But if you think you’re going to get anything better from anyone else, you won’t. There’s no formula to feeling ok with your life. Either you do, or you don’t. If you do, then you’re fine. If you don’t, well, it might take you a long time to get there. It’s different for everyone, and you just have to see for yourself where life takes you.”
I sighed. I’d heard words like this before, words that prescribe figuring things out on my own time. If those words were spotting me during a bench press, I’m pretty sure they would let the barbell fall right on my windpipe.
“I guess you’re right,” I said solemnly. “Life’s just so big, and I feel so far underneath it. Like I’ve swam to the bottom of the ocean, and on the way down it was bright and clear, like a bunch of lights were on. But when I pushed off the bottom to get to the surface, someone turned them all off, and now I don’t know what direction I’m swimming.”
The Rolling Stones song faded out, and an excited man with a deep, echoey voice came on the radio to tell me and my friend about a sale we just couldn’t miss at the mattress store this Wednesday.
“What brought this on?” asked my friend.
“I dunno. Nothing. Everything.”
He sighed, kind of like he was about to break me bad news. “I know you might not believe me,” he said, “but I know how you feel. It’s discouraging, I get it. But let me just say this;” He straightened up in the driver’s seat. “Maybe you’re supposed to be lost. Maybe that’s just how life is. There’s no one road you can be on and say with certainty ‘Yes, here I am, this is where I’m supposed to be.’ Maybe you’re supposed to wander around a little bit, feeling uncomfortable. Maybe that’s the right way to live. Maybe you’re not meant to swim up or down, but just beneath the surface, coming up for air only when you need it.”
I looked out the window again, and I saw the fair disappearing in the distance. I thought about the animals and if they ever wonder why life is so hard.
“And what if I drown?” I asked.
“How do you know?”
“Because just when you’re about to, I’ll save you,” he said, turning to me and smiling. “Or maybe you’ll swim to the top and save yourself. Or maybe, if you’re really tough, you’ll just keep swimming no matter what, and after being down there for so long, you’ll have learned to breathe underwater.”