Some Who Wander Are Lost

By George Heinrichs

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I walked with two students, Katie and Miles, toward where my phone located the bus stop. I confidently led them onto the #3 bus, flashing our Downtown School Orca cards.

Excellent! In just our second week of classes, I was getting the swing of using the transit system. But something began to seem a bit...off. Where was the Space Needle? And what were the Cascades doing there, dead ahead? I pulled the students off at the next stop. They gazed at me with dawning realization: their teacher was not their ideal navigator.

In my defense, we weren’t that lost. Not like Davy Crockett, who once said, “I have never been lost, but will admit to being confused for several weeks.” Besides, being lost is not always a bad thing. I should know; I’m kind of an expert at it.  

The first time was when I was four years old. The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, went through our backyard. I decided to follow it. My parents found me sometime later, sitting in the woods.

That’s when my dad taught me the art of being lost. I teach it to students today. It couldn’t be more simple:

When lost, immediately sit down and have a snack. Don’t fret; don’t struggle. Definitely avoid running around or trying to backtrack. You’ll just get more lost, and become harder to find. Now, do your best to enjoy your surroundings. Maybe you were meant to be there all along.

My dad and I have been lost countless times--never for very long, and we’ve never regretted the experience. In fact, these days we get a little nervous when something doesn’t go awry. That’s what makes an adventure. Besides, finding your way back gives a magnificent feeling of accomplishment. And so we stride with confidence into the unknown.

I believe this attitude--knowing that no route is perfect, welcoming the serendipity of unexpected places--helps make us truly aware. This is true whether we’re on the wrong bus, or navigating rocky intellectual shores in a classroom. I plan on teaching our students to trust their instincts and themselves, while developing a healthy skepticism toward those who claim to have the knowledge.

We’ll get lost. We’ll sit down, have a snack, and take stock. And then I’ll nod when a student says, “I’d like to lead for a while.”