Without the mountains, I’m lost. No, I’m serious. This is not a poetic description of some longing for home; it’s a simple fact. You see, where I come from in Colorado, the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains anchors and orients my greater sense of direction: with the mountains in the west, I am sure of where I am going.
St. Louis is just a bit different. Though it really is a delightfully navigable city, my limited experience of it over the last few months has left me with a sketchier familiarity with its geography than I would like. For example, I understand downtown St. Louis represents the furthest eastern boundary of my little urban world, and that De Smet Jesuit High School is somewhere somewhat west-ish of here, and that Chicago hovers in the north (I think).
Since moving here, I’ve constantly relied upon my trusty iPhone to tell me where I’m going. The process usually goes something like this: I ask myself where I need to go (perhaps a post office or a coffee shop to do some grading), I find an acceptable destination using the help of an app like Yelp, I use Yelp’s “Directions” function, which connects me to a Maps app, and I follow Siri’s halting, unforgiving, computerized directions until I arrive.
Of course, this is all very convenient, but (forgive me if I start to sound like a Luddite now), I think the convenience of this process has prevented me from developing a clue of where I belong in this city, even three months after I first arrived here.
While I was musing about St. Ignatius the other day, I recalled the name that he liked to go by best: The Pilgrim. Since my mind is constantly prepared to draw connections between reality and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, remembering Ignatius’ moniker also reminded me of a character from Tolkien’s world, Gandalf the Grey, who is also known as The Grey Pilgrim. It seems to me that whether the context is the historical past, or Tolkien’s Middle-earth, or even the everyday now, the individuals who know the most about what’s up are often those that have wandered the most through their world. Now, my weekly trip to Schnucks is no pilgrimage to Manresa, and SLUH’s touchy Nissan Versa is certainly no Shadowfax, but I’ve recognized more and more that if I am to engage and encounter this experience fully, I must adopt a pilgrim’s spirit.
This means occasionally ungluing my eyes from my iPhone as I drive (probably a good practice, anyway). It means maintaining a sense of direction, but relishing the detours and meeting the wrong turns with good humor. Sometimes it means driving straight into a dead end, like I did the other day off of Manchester Avenue. But hopefully, adopting the spirit of a pilgrim will help me appreciate the fiery leaves on the trees lining the street, and the old-timey rumble of cobblestones under the tires, and the subtle knowledge that my destination is somewhere nearby, and that I’ve got enough time to find it.