Finding our way

It can be easy to get lost in the doldrums in the winter, in the midst of grey skies and dismal newscasts. Pushing oneself out the door, one foot in front of the other, can feel like an insurmountable task. My daughter and I have been in the doldrums these days. It’s been a rough winter, coping with situations life throws at us, situations that leave us feeling unsteady. When she was younger we would often listen to audiobooks in the car. Frequently, they would have a calming effect on us as we made our way from destination to destination.

“As he drove along the peaceful highway he soon fell to daydreaming and paid less and less attention to where he was going. In a short time he wasn’t paying any attention at all, and that is why, at a fork in the road, when a sign pointed to the left, Milo went to the right …” Milo, the protagonist of Norton Juster’s classic children’s book, “The Phantom Tollbooth” gets lost in the Doldrums. “The sky became quite gray and, along with it, the whole countryside seemed to lose its color and assume the same monotonous tone. Everything was quiet, and even the air hung heavily. The birds sang only gray songs and the road wound back and forth in an endless series of climbing curves …”

The beautiful thing about being a reader is the moment you realize that the words on the page can have a direct application to your life. When Milo’s driving along, he begins to lose focus, not paying attention to the clear signs on his path. When you’re the one who’s lost, it can feel nearly impossible to alter your course even when there are clear signs that point you in another direction.

There is power in reading fiction, whether it’s in the form of a novel or a children’s book. Truth and empathy are always resting in its core. As Milo works his way through the Doldrums, he meets the watchdog, a dog with “the body of a loudly ticking alarm clock,” whose job it is to see that nobody wastes time. The dog asks Milo, “… don’t you have anywhere to go?” When Milo explains that he’s gotten lost and asks for help, the dog replies, “You must help yourself … I suppose you know why you got stuck.” “I guess I just wasn’t thinking,” says Milo. The dog nudges him along, explaining that in order to escape, he needs to start thinking. And, so it is that as he sets his mind to it, he finds himself back on the road, heading in the opposite direction.

We all have somewhere to go. The trick is in finding the road we’re meant to travel. The library’s shelves are full of maps that have the power to help us find our way.

Photo by Spurwing Agency on Unsplash.

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