You never see it coming.  It’s always a surprise.  Just the other day, in fact, I’m standing in midtown Manhattan when a guy suddenly comes up and asks me for directions.  I happen to know the location so I replied immediately and pointed him in the right direction.  He immediately took off.  But after a moment or two I began wondering whether I’d answered too quickly.  Had I gotten it right?  My directional sense, after all, is woefully deficient.  I’m never quite sure how to proceed myself.  I’m the last person one should ask.  But alas, just like most everyone else I’ve been approached countless times.  How are people supposed to know providing directions is not one of my strengths.  Still l did review his request and felt confident I’d not led him astray.

But that sometimes is not the case.  When people single you out and ask for directions your first instinct is to assist.  You don’t want to let them down.  You’re reluctant to plead ignorance, unless, that is, you draw a complete blank.  Nonetheless you are always taken by surprise, always your thoughts at that moment are elsewhere.  But now you’re forced to concentrate and be totally precise.  And you’d best be right.  Imagine giving faulty information to a stranger, who picked you out – who is relying on you.

It’s best, I find, not to respond too quickly.  And if I’m not exactly sure, not act as if I am.  My mind does not immediately visualize a map whose details and twists and turns I can readily convey.  Distances, whether in blocks or miles I can at best only approximate.  But I don’t wish to disappoint.  (After all, how many times have I asked for directions and relied upon the information received?  So I concentrate, try very hard to make it accurate and simple.

Sometimes I’m bailed out by a passerby who has overheard the conversation, sensed a degree of uncertainty and decided to impart his “expert” knowledge.  I welcome such interventions, immediately recede into the background in the presence of someone more confident and presumably knowledgeable.

I do worry sometimes about those who’ve relied solely on my directions and thanked me profusely for assisting them.  Did I get it right?  Should I have admitted some uncertainty?  Were my directions clear enough?  Have I truly aided a fellow human being or needlessly complicated his life?  Such thoughts always intrude on such occasions.

I console myself, however, with the thought that even if I’ve led him astray, even if he gets lost, he’s not without recourse.  There will always be someone, better informed than I, to set him straight, get him back on track.

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