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Losing your bearings

When you hear a news report that a child has gone missing and that an overnight police search has so far discovered nothing, you fear for the worst. There have been too many such stories which ended tragically shortly afterwards.


So it was heartening to hear the conclusion in one such case. An unnamed six-year old girl went missing from her home in Devon last week and first searches revealed nothing. Then came news that she had been found safe and well and asleep in a field not far from her home in Devon. The six-year old had gone exploring and lost her bearings. She was detected by a search team in a helicopter using night vision equipment. After a routine medical check-up she was reunited with her family. A happy ending.


Right now there are those who have lost not just their bearings but their homes and livelihoods in a still more serious way. They include many children. These are people who are escaping from some violent threat, often in a war zone like Afghanistan or Yemen or Ethiopia. They grab a few belongings which they can carry and leave the place which has been familiar to them all their lives and take the road to nowhere in particular except – they hope – safety. It also happens to individuals in our own country who seek to escape unhappiness at home.


Thankfully, we do not number among any of these groups. And please be clear that we know what we write about here seems trivial in comparison. But losing your inner-world bearings is a common-enough August experience in the best of years –and 2021 brings its own challenges.


In a week of ‘A’ level and GCSE exam results, what about students who did not get the grades they need? After eighteen months of insecurity with COVID, they and their parents are thrown into more uncertainty about what to do now. Plotting a course through later adolescence is difficult at the best of times but in the current circumstances, it’s particularly daunting.


And then there are the many adults who find themselves in uncertain circumstances or without a job in the wake of the pandemic. In mid-life, employment options seem to narrow. In such circumstances, it’s easy to lose your bearings, to wonder what your life is really about, to wonder whether you should seek a similar sort of job or strike out in a new and perhaps more risky direction. It is easy to lose self-confidence. It is easy to lose your life compass. Hardly surprising that the numbers seeking help with mental health issues has risen sharply.


Closer to home, losing your bearings has a different flavour in August when you’re retired. Some routines are absent and all sorts of people are away. Everything seems very quiet. In this part of the world, the weather is so grey and changeable that it is difficult some days to know what season we're in! We’re not looking for great drama – life can just seem a bit ‘blah’!


Of course, we’re grateful that we are not displaced persons seeking refuge. But telling yourself to 'buck up' does not always work. It may be more helpful to recognise that losing direction is fairly common and not a peculiarly personal failing. There are fallow times in life. Behind many a front door the struggle against meaninglessness and much bigger battles are being fought daily. It’s part of the human condition. There are patches of wilderness on the way to the promised land! Like the six-year old, you may lose your bearings and then find that you’re only half a mile from home!

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