In 2008, shortly after my divorce, I flew to Wiesbaden, Germany, to visit my dear friend, Dagmar. I just needed to get away.
Dagmar at the time worked for the German television station, ZDF. The station was presenting a movie at the German Film Festival in Munich, and Dagmar was in charge of making sure everything ran smoothly. I must admit, I wasn’t star struck being around all these German actors, for I knew not who they were. But I did realize the elite nature of my company. They were a big deal in Germany.
I guess it would have been a different story had I been standing next to George Clooney.
When the film ended, Dagmar rushed out the theater. She had to get to the café a couple of blocks up to ensure the after-party had been properly staged. I lagged behind. For one, I was taking in the sites and, for two, my heels were killing me.
When I walked out to the street, Dagmar was nowhere to be found. I panicked. I didn’t remember the location of the café or the location of our hotel. I felt lost. Imagine walking out into another world and realizing you don’t know the language, and you don’t know where the hell you are.
I spent a few minutes walking back and forth, in and out of the theater. I checked the bathrooms, or rather, water closets, as they are labeled in Germany. I was getting desperate. However, I realized I had to gather my faculties. Becoming undone wouldn’t help me find my way to safety, to familiarity.
I took a deep breath and walked outside.
I surveyed the landscape until I remembered the location of the hotel. Once I knew how to get there, my attitude completely changed. I felt safe. I felt anchored. I realized I was dressed to the nines and in the midst of the downtown section European city.
Things weren’t so bad.
I took my time, walking, smiling, and swishing side to side as if I belonged at a film festival. I passed different venues, all kinds of people, not caring that I couldn’t speak to eight-five percent of them. I eventually stumbled upon the café during my power walk.
Dagmar looked more relieved than I had previously looked panicked. “Oh my God! Where did you go!” she shouted before hugging me as if I were a long lost relative.
We had a good laugh about my adventures before sitting down and eating with the actors and others involved in the movie’s production.
I think all of us from time to time look for an anchor, something to ground us just in case we stray a little too far or get a little too lost. We look for familiarity in a sea of change, or for clarity in a midst of confusion, or for absolution in a world of doubt (remember doubt?). The problem comes in when we need the anchor to prevent the panic, to stir our progression, our ease. Talk about an oxymoron, needing an anchor in order to move forward.
Did I really need to know the location of the hotel to feel safe? No. I could have walked around, approached people until I found one who spoke English who could have directed me to my destination. But I didn’t have the nerve to talk; I didn’t have the confidence in my German-speak to communicate should I need to clarify words. Besides, I felt unsure how people would react to a lost American.
There is something to be said for feeling grounded, for having stability in our lives. We all need that. If I had to do it again, I would have paid better attention to my surrounding when I first hit Munich.
But, what I learned from that excursion is this: If we are scared of leaving the shore to swim in unfamiliar waters, or we need to be anchored before we walk, we will never get ahead, never change the world…and never change ourselves.