As an old woman, Georgia O’Keeffe once claimed that she had been terrified every moment of her life, and it had never kept her from doing a single thing. O’Keeffe had a habit of living her life on the edge, disregarding boundaries and borders, whether they had been self-imposed or imposed from without.
I have always admired O’Keeffe, but I have come to admit that my admiration is more theoretical than motivational. One of my shortcomings is that I almost never seek out experiences that scare me. Until now.
Last weekend I rented a car and drove all around Northumberland and the Border Lands of England and Scotland. Driving on the left side of the road is a spiritual experience, in the sense that a brush with death brings you closer to God.
Driving in England was a disorienting combination of knowing what to do and having no idea at all. I mean: I know how to drive. But I was worried about my instincts: I am careful checking for oncoming traffic, but it wigged me out that the traffic would be coming from the wrong direction. It was the quick, instinctual decisions that terrified me in advance.
It had not occurred to me to brush up on UK road signs, of course. Also–and this turns out to be important–measuring speed in miles per hour and kilometers per hour is not the same thing. I figured that out after throwing gravel while squealing around a couple of turns. Oh, and another thing: rural roads in England are not wide enough for two cars. So that’s fun. There was a bustle in my hedgerow a couple of times there. I was alarmed.
God being my helper and St. Polycarp be praised, there were no serious mishaps. I handled the roundabouts just fine. I only got honked at once, and only twice started to get in the wrong car door. I did skim the left curb about 1000 times and grip the wheel like my life depended on it. Which I guess it did.
The wonder of the experience was that after a while, I got my bearings and worry gave way to joy. After traveling several plane and train segments, it was so wonderful to be free to pick my own strange roads, and arrange my comfort stops as I pleased. When I got lost, I problem-solved with the help of a stained and dog-eared atlas, in combination with the little blue GPS dot on my phone.
I saw things I would never have seen from the train, and when something caught my eye, I turned around and went back.
I kept thinking that what made it possible for Moses to hear the voice of God was the fact that he noticed something–a bush, burning!–and turned off his path to see. This was one of the greatest mid-course corrections in history and a model for us all. God grant us to seek new roads, even in fear. May we always turn aside to look when something wondrous catches the eye.