I believe in Mapquest. I believe in Tom-Tom, Magellan, and Garmin; in Rand McNally, AAA and the ever-ready OnStar. I believe in directions; in knowing where you are and where you’re going, but I think to find yourself, it’s more important to start off lost. When I was sixteen, my parents left me to fend for myself in the middle of downtown Denver. The idea was to test my questionable directional ability before I got my license. My test began on the steps of the Capitol, and I was to meet my mother at the 16th Street Mall by four.
The Capitol was overrun with the homeless. My eyes flickered from one disheveled body to the next. I was nervous. I’m certain my discomfort was obvious and I was embarrassed to be so insensitive, but there was nothing I could do. I was on a mission. Guilt-ridden, I stood and walked into the park. I walked north until I hit Colfax. Trying not to panic, I took a deep breath and looked at the street sign: here was Colfax Avenue, a street with many an innuendo. I decided that East seemed like a good direction, so I turned. I was at Colfax and Grant, Colfax and Logan, Colfax and Pennsylvania. This did not look right. Passerby shot me imaginary ominous looks, every alley-way held made-up danger. I was getting worried.
I found my way back to the Capitol and sat down, pulling my knees to my chest and letting tears drip into dark pools on my jeans. The rattle of a shopping cart ripped me from my reverie: “you alright?” I looked up at an old man, his beard streaked with dirt, his skin leathery. “I said, you alright?” I stared, blinking tears from my eyes. “I’m lost.” My voice quavered; I felt pathetic. “Where you going?” He leaned against his cart, plastic bags rustling as he shifted his weight. “16th street mall,” I said, flinching as he coughed and spat off to the side. “You ain’t far,” he said, pulling a piece of paper and pen from his jacket and beginning to draw. Finished, he held out the paper, a crudely drawn diagram of the area. “Thank you so much,” I stuttered. “My pleasure,” he said, smiling “you go on now, have a good day.”
I had never realized I held any prejudice. My aversion towards the homeless was inherent, a learned behavior that I had never thought to remedy. I was insensitive, and yet, when I was in need, this man did not hesitate to come to my rescue. I was grateful, but at the same time disgusted. What kind of double standard is this? I had discovered a part of myself that was directly opposite of all my self-proclaimed values. I was a hypocrite. It took placing myself in an uncomfortable position to realize that I did not practice what I preached. Though I was lost, I came to find the flaws within myself.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.