A Man and a Map


Photo: Sylwia Bartyzel,  unsplash.com.

“They say everything is at a standstill for miles.”

My dad leaned toward the open car door where I perched shotgun in a rental car my sister and I were using. I struggled to drag up Google maps on my phone.

“Can you see pictures of a map on that?” he asked.

“Yes, just one moment.” I tapped out our location into the “from” line and my parents’ address into the “to” line, but my cell coverage was spotty and the website was taking too long to load. Finally, I showed him the picture.

He shook his head. “I’m going to find a map.”

Traffic crept along the highway and spilled onto the exits and local routes. We had pulled off the highway and stopped at a McDonald’s to consider our possibilities. We had heard that there was an accident, and the few miles of construction just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, had brought every vehicle to a tiny crawl.

My dad is an expert when it comes to finding a different route to take. If the current lane he’s driving in becomes clogged, if construction or an accident keeps him from moving, he always finds a way to work around the problem. Today was no different.

His solution? Find a map.

We waited while he bought a map and chose an alternate route. But despite our best intentions, it seemed that everyone had the same idea. . .find an alternate route. We inched forward a few miles, then finally turned around and headed back into the McDonald’s parking lot. . .the same spot we had just left.

While we bought food and commiserated with another family sitting nearby, my Dad once again spread the map across the table and carefully studied the details. As our new-found friend related his experiences trying to get to Pennsylvania, Dad re-studied his options to get to West Virginia. He wanted everything clearly laid out before him–not squeezed into a picture on a phone.

After eating our lunch, we eventually pulled back onto the highway. And in a few short miles, the traffic sped up and once again flowed easily. But we had lost four hours of precious time. Four hours. My dad declared he had never seen the traffic this bad on the route home.

As a kid, I remember the countless times that I watched my dad study the map as we traveled across the country. He would sit in the driver’s seat of the bus, hunched over the map he had spread out on the steering wheel, while the rest of us laughed and talked and ate lunch at some rest area. If we were traveling in Texas or Arizona or Utah, it was especially crucial to gauge how many miles it was until the next gas station so that our caravan would not be stranded in the desert.

No MapQuest. No randmcnally.com. Just a man and a map.

When I began driving, I, too, had to learn to read a map. We did not have cell phones with access to MapQuest and Google maps back then. (I sound ancient.) There was a large, thick Rand McNally map, and we used it frequently.

The familiar sight of Dad hunched over the map as we sat in McDonald’s stirred memories. Instinctively, I knew. I knew that no matter what happened, we would make it to our location, even if it took us all day. And it was a knowing that resulted in security.

Even now, I long for security. Whenever I face a new path–one filled with questions and doubts and unknowns–I instinctively yearn for those long-ago days filled with the certainty of knowing that someone was holding the map. Someone was planning my course.

But thinking of Dad expertly reading the map reminded me.

Someone is holding the map, Someone is planning my course. Even when everything is at a standstill, even when my way seems blocked, Someone knows and is preparing an alternate route. And somehow, someday–at just the right moment–the way will suddenly open before me, free of obstacles and delays.


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