My husband Michael and I were taking an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood. We watched a silver Prius slowly come toward us on the far side of the street as several cars passed it.
The car stopped in the middle of its lane, blocking a side street. A 60-something women rolled down her window and called to us.
“Excuse me! Can you tell me how to get to Collins Avenue?”
Michael signaled her to do a u-turn so she would be on our side of the road. With difficulty, she did.
The woman leaned over to the passenger side and again asked for directions. She looked exasperated. I know the look, because it’s how I feel when I’m lost, a not uncommon experience.
The embarrassing truth is, I could not have helped her. We were mere blocks from home and a minute’s drive from Collins Avenue. I’ve walked that street many times. But in my mind, I couldn’t picture how to get there. Not under pressure. Not quickly enough to be of assistance.
Michael proceeded to give her very precise directions, including landmarks, how many blocks until each turn, where the road would jog, and the pothole in the street to avoid.*
As soon as he started his commentary, I knew where Collins was. Duh.
The woman seemed frazzled. She started to repeat the directions, getting as far as the first turn, before she faltered. Michael went over it again. She was still confused.
Watching the interaction was like an out-of-body experience. The woman was me. She/I was stressed, and therefore her/my brain was retaining very little information. We were on overload and could only process the bare essentials.
Back in my real body, I could intervene. “Here’s what you do,” I said, “Go right on Maple, right on Pawling, right on Collins. Three rights.”
“Oh. Right, right, right?” she asked. “Yup,” I said, “It’s simple.”
She drove away looking confident. I turned to my direction-savvy husband and explained:
“You see, Dear, you have to know how someone’s brain works before you give them directions. She was too stressed to follow all the details. She needed it simple.”
I told him that the next time someone wants directions, he should first ask them, “Does your brain work like mine or like my wife’s?” We laughed so hard we almost tripped off the curb.
I’m embarrassed by my poor sense of direction and other ways my brain retains information about as well as a flat tire holds air. I worry that others will think I’m stupid. It’s one of my greatest fears. I’ve never admitted this before, and only recently became conscious of it myself.
But the Prius encounter was an “ah-ha” moment. In fact, I didn't look stupid at all. I may not have had all the information in front of me like a hologram map, but I solved the problem, didn’t I? The real problem was a person in distress. And I knew instinctively how to help.
It was a stroke of genius.
Still, I have other brain hiccups that I’m not brave enough in my writing world to share yet. In spite of my recent Einstein moment, I’m still afraid you’ll think I’m stupid. I can’t shed that mantle completely yet.
But I’m going to work on it.
As soon as I find my way home.
*OK - he didn’t tell her about a pothole. But he’s told me about potholes when I ask for directions. And I usually hit them regardless. Not on purpose. It’s just overload.