Finding True North


On more than one occasion, I’ve uttered the words, “Oh, great.  I have no idea where I am.”  For a directionally challenged person such as myself, this is a common phrase! Back in 2005, I added Beijing to my list of international cities where I’ve been completely lost.* In a place where English makes a rare appearance and tourists from the West stick out like a sore thumb, it becomes vitally important to find the way back to home base as soon as possible, (nothing attracts a pickpocket or worse than a confused looking tourist!). What set this event apart from all the rest was the fact that I had a compass keychain dangling from my belt loop.  Between a city bus map display, my street map, and the needle of a compass, I was able to find my way back to the hotel by matching up Chinese characters and traveling North and then East. My compass saved me that day by showing me where I needed to go and I’ve never forgotten that gift.  Seven years later, it’s still my lifeline.

I’ve often referred to my recent journey to London as a life-altering experience, despite my struggle to understand the full impact it has had on my life.  Some changes are obvious, but the deeper meaning dangles in front of me like a clue in a mystery waiting to be solved.  I am different in a place so hidden and so deep I can’t see it or even begin to comprehend it’s significance. All I have is the unrelenting sense of a huge shift towards something.  It’s a lot like standing at a fork in the road without knowing what the choices are or why they exist.

Essentially, I am lost all over again without knowing the language. Being lost in this way is both wondrous and frustrating.  Sometimes I revel in the confusion and the inspiration it brings, but there are times I wish I had a road map that at least reveals the basic layout of my new landscape.

Upon returning from London, the feeling of disorientation was overwhelming.  I couldn’t shake the duality of being excited to go home, while at the same time feeling as though I was leaving home. Torn in two, I oscillated between a life I loved and a life I didn’t know was possible, (and loved just as much). Nothing seemed real. In the months that followed, that surreality never left and I grew increasingly restless.  My perspective had changed so drastically, it effected every element of my life and made even the most the familiar things seem foreign.

I remain directionally challenged and my reliance on a compass has manifested itself in an entirely new way. About a month after my return, I was out shopping with family when I spotted a necklace with a compass pendant.  It was beautiful, not only in terms of design, but for the fact that it represented something very special to me.  With every spin of the needle, I am reminded that as lost as I sometimes feel, I will find my way to true north.

My compass necklace wrapped around the place that changed everything.

I wear my compass necklace almost every day so I don’t forget to follow my instincts and listen for hints that will eventually lead to the answer I seek.  All I know for certain is London taught me I am a lot stronger than I ever believed and that serves as my anchor.  At the moment, I walk this path with a smile on my face and growing curiosity of what lies ahead.  Just as it always has, my compass will point me in the right direction.

– – –

*Oh, the stories I have from London, Paris, Rome, Prague, and Dublin!  I suppose that’s another post for another day.

– – –

c.b. 2012


33 thoughts on “Finding True North

  1. CBW…What a wonderful post! I felt as you did in London–and in the UK as a whole: It was (and is, each visit) like coming home. Racial memory? Recall from a past life? Dunno…just know what the feeling was….


  2. Great post! I took a creativity workshop some years ago in NYC-first and only time I have been there. In one of our activities, we had to draw what was in our heart, after doing some other activities-more like guided meditations. I came up with a compass. It was like I would always knew which direction to go in, or at least I would be shown which direction if I paid attention. It was at a time of great upheaval in my life and so it gave me a bit of courage. I think you should begin recording those stories/memories from your travels. It might lead into a memoir.


    • I kept a journal while I was there and I continue to write in it as inspiration and epiphany arise. One day it may turn into something more. 🙂 Very often I think a novel is hiding in there somewhere.

      How lovely that you drew a compass. 🙂


  3. mademosiellebluebell

    This is a great post. I can relate to easily getting lost. I can get turned around at a store and loose my car in a parking lot. This was very thought provoking and wonderful to read. Oh, and I covet your compass necklace lol 😀


    • The compass I had in China has been all over the world – I love how its lead me true in so many different places. 🙂

      The necklace actually works – I tried while walking home one day just to see if it was real of just for show.


  4. What a beautiful necklace and an even more beautiful reminder.

    Sometime during college, especially while commuting between the familiar pastures near my parents’ house and the campus, I began sensing something. It’s almost like being Frodo during those autumn walks through the forest, feeling a longing that you can’t pinpoint, knowing that there is something that needs done but you don’t know what it is. It’s during those drives that the phrase “everyday epic” hit me. I’ve never been able to shake it or find words to fully explain it, but I later read “Epic” by John Eldredge and it helped me feel like I understood it a bit better. His books are about Christianity, and this one is no exception, but it reflected the feeling I have.

    I hope that you one day find the answer that you are searching for. It sounds like you are on the edge of an exciting journey! 🙂


    • I’ve always loved the title of your blog, and now I love it even more now that I know where it came from. Awesome!

      The answer is elusive, but I am enjoying the path that leads to it. It does feel a lot like having my toe on the precipice. I figure the answer will come when I am most ready to hear it. 🙂


  5. So glad you continue to write about London. I remember your “posts from abroad”. Blogging was fairly new and if I remember correctly you had to come home a week early because of unrest or something with transportation. So glad our paths have crossed.


    • Wow! You have a good memory! I did have to come home early to due a major transportation strike that was planned to take the place the day I was supposed to leave. Coming home early really heightened that sense of duality and it really threw me off. However, I’ve come to look at it is something that was meant to be. 🙂

      You were one of my first followers and I’ve always been grateful for our connection. 🙂


  6. I haven’t traveled a lot, staying among familiar places where I know my way around. New places scare me a little, because I don’t like being lost, either. It’s wonderful that you have led such an adventurous life and have been able to maneuver with the help of your compass. That pendant, by the way, is absolutely gorgeous and with the added benefit of the compass could not be more perfect for you!

    I also feel an affinity with all things British although I have never stepped foot on the island. Perhaps it is my British ancestry that has me longing to travel there or maybe I just want to meet my distant cousins with whom I communicate, now that my father no longer can. Whatever the reason, I hope to see it some day. Glad that you had such a great life while you were there. 🙂


    • Before I started traveling, I would go into absolute panic mode when I got lost. Travel taught me to value the moments that veer from the plan. I always knew I wanted to travel, even when I was a child, but I had to overcome my fears to do it and I’m so glad I did, (although the jitters still get me every now and then!).

      I hope you get to the U.K. one day, especially because of your ancestry. That same feeling is how I ended up in Prague. 🙂


  7. I think a compass will help you find that ‘something’ you’ve been searching for since London, but not the one you currently own. You need to find the compass that gives direction in time, not north or south. It is out there, and you will find it. It will point you back, as well as forward, your choice.


    • Very true. The longer I’ve been back, the more I realize this is a journey that will take years to complete. I love where I am and who I am, but its fascinating to see all that through such a different lens. It’s all about translating a new perspective and that will, of course, take time. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the ride. 🙂


  8. I’ve been resonating with this since the day you posted it – both with that sense of belonging to, and longing for, two different places, and especially with your sentence “I am different in a place so hidden and so deep I can’t see it or even begin to comprehend it’s significance.”
    Ireland did that to me, and almost three years later I still have no words to describe the fundamental change, change that feels like the restructuring of my DNA, that continues. I know much of my “todays” come from the path I first set upon when I made that trip. Your compass necklace is a beautiful talisman. Thank you for sharing this story and this writing, which is breath-taking in its beauty.


    • ” . . . hange that feels like the restructuring of my DNA, that continues.” That’s exactly what it feels like – I’ve never been able to describe it as well as you have. Thank you for posting this comment – its nice to know I’m not alone. Its hard to explain such an odd feeling to someone who has never experienced it, so I get a lot of strange looks. Thanks for understanding and perhaps we can continue to find our way together.

      Its true, everything I’ve done and thought since has been the direct result of my trip. Just like you, I know its leading toward something. 🙂


  9. Are we of similar age? I wonder. For me, there’s been an ongoing sense of being lost for the past…5 or 6 years. Sometimes it’s just quiet uncertainty, and other times it feels as intense as I imagine finding one’s way through Beijing with a compass would be! When it first set in – late 30s – it was unnerving. Now? Now, it feels very much like you said “I walk this path with a smile on my face and growing curiosity of what lies ahead.”


    • I’m in my early 30s. 🙂 Since I wrote this piece, I had a rather groundbreaking epiphany. Writing about this trip in posts like these and in poetic verse on Sundays has really helped me break through the mystery. I understand the changes in me so much more and I have a handle on why the need to go to London was so strong. It was just what I needed and I’m anxious to learn the next lessons it has to offer. 🙂


  10. CB~what strikes me the most is the analogous nature of your compass. It seems to me that your travels, reflections on those travels, dreams, and writing, have become your internal compass. that internal compass continues to guide you. How wise to wear your compass as an external reminder of your very own true north.


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