Several weeks ago, I began planning a 2500-mile or so road trip. Knowing that the trip would originate at my home in eastern Virginia and that my ultimate destination, before returning home, was Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I consulted online mapping sources and travel websites. As convenient and helpful as they were, though, what I needed before I finalized plans was a clear look at the big picture.
“I’m heading to my local automobile club tomorrow to pick up some old-fashioned road maps,” I emailed a friend.
“Love pouring over maps,” she wrote back.
At first, I mistook her response for a blessing, reading it as she wrote it, missing at first the homonymic slip. What she meant to say was that she loves poring over maps. But the image that flashed through my mind was of something fluid and sparkling being discharged over large swaths of canvas or cardboard somewhere on a mapmaker’s drafting table. Love pouring over maps.
Different kinds of maps do different things, but perhaps one thing they have in common is that they represent huge geographic areas, condensing them into scaled-down images that are accessible to mere mortals. They give us the overall picture, or at least one version of it. The state maps I acquired, for instance, show state boundaries, locate towns and and cities, indicate regional and national parks, outline the courses of rivers and the shapes of lakes, sketch the positions of mountains, and reveal the meandering nature of roads. Most signficantly, perhaps, they make visible how all the parts fit, where they lie, how they move and connect to each other.
Does love pour over these maps? In a sense, yes. These maps probably are not perfect, but they provide amazing clarity and accuracy—without insisting on where I go or judging how I get there. Surely it takes a labor of love—or many labors of love—to gather and update the information, plot the points, measure, label, record, proofread, color, and perform the myriad other tasks needed to produce accurate and trustworthy instruments. And surely the abundance of possiblities they make evident and available to a would-be traveler can also be seen as emblematic of a great and generous love.
As I write this, I am on the journey I was planning. At the moment I am just a little southeast of Sweetwater, Tennessee. Even with my good maps (and a GPS in the car) I’ve made a few wrong turns—but each time I have been able to get back on track. And while I have moved from place to place pretty much as I had expected, there has also been time to leave the main roads to do some discovering and to let a little serendipity in.
How nice it would be always to live this way—with a sense of where we are starting out and what we want our furthest destination to be before we return home. Suppose we had something to show us our own “big picture,” including the abundance of possible places we could visit, roads to take, and things to see and do along the way. Suppose we were given our choice of those options without any pressure to take one over the other. Would it feel to us as though love were being poured out over our maps?
Perhaps we do live that way—if we only let ourselves see it—for don’t most of us have some kind of template in the back of our mind, something that gives us both choice and direction, something that helps us find our way when we get lost, something that spurs us on? Some might know such templates as “call.” Today I am thinking of them as “maps.” Whatever we call them, the trick may be to keep them fresh, up-to-date, close at hand.
Wherever you are on your journey today, may love pour over your maps.
© 2014 Angier Brock