Yesterday I drove down to Laguna Beach, chancing the freeways of Orange County. Laguna Beach, with its curving boardwalk and garden-like cliffside path, sparkled under a cloudless sky. I made time for a labyrinth at an Episcopal Church in Laguna Hills, finding it after only one wrong turn on a street named El Toro. This church is next to a busy road, with the freeway humming not far away, so the labyrinth is an oasis of calm in the midst of much activity.
I left that labyrinth only to enter a larger one, the freeway system of Southern California. Despite driving down from L.A. without a hitch, I missed my freeway entrance on the way back and ended up on the I-5 instead -- so the way in was not the way out. I was trying to get back to L.A. in time to stop by the Jung Center, where a colleague from school had offered to show me around if I was in the neighborhood, and I would have made it if not for taking that wrong turn (or was it the right turn?). I ended up seeing parts of L.A. that I wouldn't have seen otherwise but missed the Jung Center altogether.
Then things got really complicated this morning, after I had what seemed like a simple idea. I thought it might be nice to visit an old church I once discovered near Olvera Street in downtown L.A. Olvera Street is all I saw of L.A. the first time I visited years ago, so it's where all my explorations here began. I even gave up breakfast at my hotel to try to get to the church by 8 a.m., which is saying something considering how much I like those Urth Cafe danishes.
I knew I needed to get on the I-10 from Cloverfield, and even though I knew it, I turned onto Olympic instead and missed the entrance. I cut over to Pico and headed for what I knew was another entry to the I-10. I almost missed this one as well since it came up sooner than I expected, but I saw the sign at the last minute. I had memorized the series of moves I needed to make downtown and didn't consider it to be big deal since I had gone this way many times. But somehow the directions didn't work, and I found myself on a strange freeway, heading toward Santa Ana, with downtown fading into the distance and the sky turning a grim industrial gray that made me think of East Germany behind the Iron Curtain. According to my map, I was southeast of L.A., but I felt like I was in Mordor, or at least in one of Dante's lower circles. Sometimes the descent happens just that fast.
I figured the best thing to do was to stay on the freeway and wait until it connected with a road I knew. This happened eventually, but not until I had crossed all the way back to the 405 and then the I-10, retracing my route from earlier. I obviously wasn't going to make the Mass, but I could still visit the church, and this time, following my own hunch, I exited at the right place and found it. I addressed myself to Mary, Queen of the Angels, since she was the one I had come to see, put money in the poor box, and lit a candle. Then I walked over to Olvera Street and had breakfast.
I was supposed to meet friends at 11:30 at the Hammer Museum, and at that point I still had adequate time. Not wanting to risk getting lost again, I asked the parking lot attendant the best way to get back to I-10; either I misunderstood him or he had things a bit scrambled, because the way he told me to go ended at a dead end. Then I got on the freeway, but it was going the wrong way. I got off and traveled the surface roads until I saw a sign for I-10 West, and I was just congratulating myself on spotting one when I realized (right after getting on the freeway) that I was almost out of gas. After a quick exit and a panicked search for a gas station that refused to appear until I was almost running on fumes, I found one at the corner of Pico and Vermont, jumped back on the I-10, and sailed on, making it to my destination 45 minutes later than I had planned.
I was still early for the event but too far back in line to see my friends. I was silently berating myself for undertaking such a wild scheme that morning when a man who had joined me in line struck up a conversation. We ended up talking during much of the hour and 40-minute wait before the event started. He had a background in film and writing, and I was struck by the ways our stories were alike as well as the ways they differed. I had once wanted to be a psychologist; he actually was one. We had both written unpublished children's stories. I told him about the recent "big dream" I had about my grandmother, and he picked up on an aspect of it that I had overlooked. He talked about his wife helping to design the facility we were standing in. He had just joined the Hammer Museum as a member and kindly offered to let me enter as his guest so I would be sure of getting a seat in the auditorium instead of the overflow gallery.
I wouldn't have met this man and had this conversation if I hadn't been lost and running late. So was I really lost and late, or did I arrive just when I was supposed to? Perhaps there was something he said that I needed to hear. One of the things he told me was that in his own life he was trying to listen to the universe, trust it, and live in the flow. That is a Jungian idea, and I agree with it, but as I said to him, it's hard to know sometimes just how to do that. He agreed that it is a challenge.
While we were waiting, I saw my friend from the Jung Center at a distance, and we waved at each other across a sea of people. One connection missed . . . but another one made. I found the friends I came to meet, and we decided to get together in the courtyard afterwards. The talk itself, a conversation between James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani, editor of the Red Book, was rich and fascinating, but it was only one of several remarkable things that happened on this trip.
After the talk, the Red Book exhibit, and a visit with my friends, I drove toward the ocean, feeling pensive. I went for a walk in the canyon neighborhood that I somehow think of as mine, though I don't own an inch of property there. A bit of melancholy had hung over this trip, retreating and returning at intervals, and it came back now as I faced my last evening here. After the walk, I drove down to the Pacific Coast Highway, thinking of having dinner downtown. Instead, I found myself in a lane that only turned right, once again forced in a direction contrary to my intention. I sat at that long light feeling both annoyed and tired, though there was nothing to do but go with the traffic.
When the light changed, and I turned onto the highway, I saw what I could not see before -- the rays of the setting sun streaming down from behind a bank of clouds, forming a shining path on the ocean and the land in a spectacular interplay of light, sky, water, and earth that I would have had my back to had I gone the way I intended.
I've walked so many of these labyrinths, always considering it a conscious choice, something for research, the path to my dissertation -- meaningful, of course -- but really my own doing. But right now I'm beginning to wonder: Am I walking them, or are they walking me? Both, maybe?