Some years ago Mum told me that one day, driving down a road not far from home, she suddenly realized that she didn’t know where she was. This must have been about the time when she first began to notice that something was wrong. It wasn’t very long before this and other signs of disorientation in time and place gave the rest of the family cause for concern, too, and we began to take steps to make sure that Mum didn’t go out in the car alone. But every time I drive down that road I too have a moment of wondering where I am; I think it is because that particular stretch of road could in fact be anywhere.
It is in an area of farmland between our town and the next, with cornfields on either side and wide open sky in all directions as far as the eye can see; no other markers of place except for the tell-tale turning of the leaves in the Fall, and unusual for New England in being a long, perfectly straight stretch of road with no twists and turns or ups and downs, and no houses. Only corn, which, in the late summer has grown as high as an elephant’s eye, leads one to believe that one is in Oklahoma, Kansas, or just about anywhere in the American Midwest. So after my initial panic, I take a deep breath, relax into that timeless moment, and drive on, trusting in the road itself, and knowing that soon, all too soon, I will be back on track, fully re-oriented, and saddled once again with my long list of errands and uncompleted tasks.
Increasingly, every moment of the day is another check mark on the To-Do List. Even on our days off, perhaps especially on our days off, that list seems to be never-ending. A person is seen as unmotivated if she or he does not have clearly defined goals and, in our fast-paced society, being self-directed, “in the driver’s seat,” is considered a necessity, even a virtue. But how much are we really in control when we are at the wheel? More often, we seem to be harnessed and driven by pressures and goals set elsewhere and by others.
When I was five, my Uncle Ted gave me a blue hardcover copy of A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young, one of the few books that I have managed to carry around the world with me and still hold and treasure. It has long-since lost its dust-jacket, some of its pages are torn, and the young me dared to color in E. H. Shepard’s classic illustrations. But battered as it is, it is still wonderfully intact. Whatever its condition, the poems in it have become part of me, and give recourse and expression to moods that overtake me as much as an adult as they did when I was very young. One of my favorites is Spring Morning, in which the child, wondering where he is going, knows deep down, that he, certainly, does not know; and furthermore, that it matters not one whit. The world is alive and full of wonder, and she can float through it like a cloud on invisible currents, safe and free. If we all knew this, then we need not panic when we are suddenly overtaken by that strong sense that we don’t know where we are or where we are going. We don’t.
Note on punctuation: In many of the versions of this poem I found on the internet, the punctuation was wrong. A.A. Milne wrote, “Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know. “ Note the period after the second ‘anywhere,’ and the italicized ‘I’: both are essential to the reading of that line, which comes at the end of the first verse and again at the very last.