Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The pleasure of getting lost

We found ourselves wandering an old bazaar in a small town in the United Arab Emirates. The bazaar was quite large, with what seemed like a nearly infinite array of vendors selling everything you can imagine… down this alley was the jewelry merchants… over here, the rug weavers… and down this way men selling pistachios, watermelons and baskets of dates.

We wandered somewhat carelessly, stopping to look at this and that and ducking down new alleys and finding yet new rows of vendors. The Arabs must have an affinity for labyrinths. After wandering around a bit, we had gotten completely turned around and lost our way. Perhaps we were too enamored with the glittering treasures laid out before us, the energy of the people hustling around and mosaic of color and sound and smell…

In any event, we were lost.

Years ago, our reaction might have been one of mild panic or even annoyance. But our newer absurd self reacted differently. We simply found some pleasure in getting lost.

Our modern life seems to revolve around knowing where we are at every moment. We have cell phones, so that we are never out of touch. We have maps and street signs and coordinates of all kinds… One must know where one is at all times.

But there is some pleasure, we found, in being utterly lost. It was another way in which we appreciated the absurdity of our position. What difference did it make really, we wondered, where we were. And aren’t we all lost in a way in this big vast universe? Do any of us know where we are truly?

We reflected on this when the sweet smell of apple-flavored shisha smoke wafted into our noses. We saw a little shop and decided to stop in. There we enjoyed the shisha, a cup of tea, and sat watching the people go by.

After a time, we asked our waiter for the way out. He told us. We got lost again. We asked a kind old woman for directions and this time we got where we wanted to go. It was a pleasurable afternoon…

This episode reminded us of an incident a year ago, when we missed an international flight. This was a very inconvenient and expensive error. But again, we did not fret or let it ruin our day. We bought another ticket and headed over to the lounge for a sandwich and beer. There we met a very nice couple and actually made a business contact that we have kept to this day.

So you never know what might happen, when you let things happen…

The absurd man does not hesitate to snub his destiny, so to speak. The financial writer Nassim Taleb gave this advice in his book The Black Swan. Do not chase after missed trains, he said. We like the advice.

The essential point was this: We control so little in this world, but one thing we do control is our reaction to that world. So, focus on that.

This, too, is a key mantra for the absurd man. If life is meaningless, as the absurd man believes it to be, then there is no need to panic when lost, to fret over missed flights or to chase missed trains. He can be happy all the same.


  1. Another flavor of this epiphany involves the arbitrariness of the significance associated with location. For instance, when you were in the cafe, enjoying your experience, you knew where you were in one sense: you were right there. What you didn't know was the relationship between that place and some external reference point. Which of course doesn't matter. Another way of arriving at the realization that one's location is always Right Here and the time is always Right Now. With the only meaningful answer to those questions always intrinsically known, what meaning can there be to the concept of "being lost"?

  2. "We control so little in this world, but one thing we do control is our reaction to that world. So, focus on that."

    In reality we don't even control this. We are like actors in a movie and the script is already written