I mean it. This summer, get lost.
Remember driving somewhere before the invention of GPS navigation? Before MapQuest? People would give directions over the phone, we’d dutifully copy them down (usually omitting just one key item), and we’d set off on our journey.
Somewhere around Cape May, we’d pull over at a pay phone (!) and call to find out where we went wrong. When they asked whether we made the left turn at Joe’s Diner, they suddenly remember that Joe’s Diner was torn down two years ago.
It wasn’t the most efficient way to travel, but it did have one redeeming quality: as we wandered the highways of whatever wrong turn we had made, we discovered amazing things. We discovered incredible, never-mentioned little restaurants. We discovered forests, lakes, parks, even whole towns which we never knew existed.
Think back: do you have memories like these?
Would you like to have more of them?
If you would, here’s my recipe for serendipity: On a nice, summer day, fill your gas tank and set out on one of the routes below. When you reach the turn-off point, turn off your cell phone’s navigation. Yes, I said it – turn the thing off. You can leave it on for phone calls, but don’t use it for anything related to telling you where you are. Then just drive.
Don’t drive fast; you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. Make turns, follow small roads, and most of all, follow hand-made signs for “homemade jams” and such. Take time to get out of your car when the feeling strikes you; walk around a small town, say hello to the people you see on the street, take in the sights and eat somewhere that is not a national chain. It’s possible the food will be simply awful, but there’s also the chance that you will stumble across a “find” that you’ll be talking about for a year. (And think how much fun it will be to bring it up at a party: “Yes, we were driving through the Pine Barrens and we found this tiny restaurant…”)
The advantage of GPS is that whenever you’re done wandering, you can just fire it up and say, “Take me home.” So we have the possibility of getting-lost-but-not-really-being-lost, which is the best kind of being lost!
Here are my recommended starting points for getting lost in New Jersey. If you discover others, please let me know. I love finding new places to get lost in.
Take the Garden State Parkway south. Any time between Exit 80 and Exit 60, get off and head West. The Pine Barrens are the largest National Forest east of the Mississippi River – over a million acres of trees with small communities that have been there, undisturbed, for centuries.
Take Route 287 to Route 78 West. As soon as you get on 78, pick your exit and head either North or South. Once you get a few miles away from 78, life takes on a different feel. There are charming little towns like Alexandria, Bethlehem, Lebanon – the whole ancient Middle East without leaving New Jersey!
I once gave a sermon about how a trip to the Rockies altered my understanding of the word “mountain,” but for the East Coast we have some really pretty “hills” here in the Garden State. To find them, take the GSP North to Route 280 West, then follow that until it merges with Route 80. From there you can pretty much take any turnoff that leads North, but one of the best is Route 15. Once you find yourself getting into the hills, turn off anywhere and explore.
And what do you do when you encounter unexpected beauty, or unexpected kindness from those you meet? The Jewish answer is, of course, to say a blessing. When we see the beauty of nature we say, “Baruch Ata, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, sheh-kacha lo be-olamo” – “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, whose world is filled with beauty.” And when we experience the beauty of human beings we say, ““Baruch Ata, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, sheh-asa li nes bamakom hazeh” – “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, for the wonder I have experienced here.” With either blessing, or with words of blessing you create yourself at that moment, you re-enact what our ancestors did on each of their wanderings: create a new, never-before-discovered, holy place.
To be clear: I’m not giving up Waze. My Type A personality likes knowing where I’m going, how I’m getting there and when I will arrive. But I have a beautiful greeting card hanging on the wall in front of me in my home office which says, “Life is not a destination, but a journey.” It’s a good thing to remember.
As I begin my 33rd year at TRT, I thank each of you for sharing this journey with me, and for inviting me to share your journeys with you. We have traveled in directions we never expected, but over and over again our journeys have led us to holy places. In that spirit, and wishing you each a wonderful summer, I repeat:
Rabbi Don Weber
© 2016, Temple Rodeph Torah