Finding The Recombobulation Center

by Maria Theresa Maggi on August 16, 2018

"Evening Bit of Blue with Clouds and Ocean," pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Evening Bit of Blue with Clouds and Ocean,” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi


I’ve always liked the word discombobulate. When I say I feel discombobulated, I’m injecting humor into saying I’m not sure what to do next or why, or which is the best next step, or I’m feeling disoriented and tired. It helps me through, and makes me giggle just a little even to say it, because it gives a seemingly sophisticated turn of phrase to a not very sophisticated or smooth state of being.

The etymology, it turns out, shows that as far as anyone can tell, “discombobulation” is indeed a fanciful Latinate term invented in the 19th century as slang for feeling “discomfitted.” I like this variation of that explanation the best of all, which I paraphrase here from a forum that posits  answers to where the word comes from: “In my opinion, it comes from the Italian word ‘scombussolato,’ which has the same definition, and literally means “of someone whose compass is discomposed or has none.’  ‘Bussola’ is the word for compass in Italian. The alteration of the original word to ‘discombobulated’ follows the classic pattern of enunciation alteration that comes with introducing Italian words into the English language.”

The essence of this posited definition, to be “without a compass,” resonated right on the money with me. That’s exactly what I feel like when I’m “discombobulated.”

A few evenings ago I stopped by to pick up some postcard stamps a friend had kindly purchased for me from the post office. She was off to an art opening, and I sympathized with her about us being introverts and having to get a game face on for public gatherings. While she accomplished that, I said I would be looking for the “recombobulation center–wherever that is”–and I laughed at myself as I said it.

Several years ago I hit on the term “recombobulation,” when it showed up in a photograph a friend of mine had taken at a midwestern airport while traveling. She had snapped a sign defining a cordoned off space as the “recombobulation area.” That just made me laugh no end. I am often in need of a recombobulation area, especially when things have been extra stimulating in many different directions and I can’t keep up.

As the dogs and I continued on our walk, I didn’t think we’d end up down on the sand again. But when we got there, the look and feel of the light on the beach was just so inviting that despite being tired and discombobulated, I decided I had one more down and then back up the stairs again if we would just go down and hang out, enough to let Cotton have a few zoomies (since there was no assembly of sea gulls to tempt him). Lately our beach sand has been “terraced” by the tides. The uppermost level stays pretty dry and is softer and hilly and definitely a workout to slog through. Then it drops off to more wet, flat sand closer to the water, onto which the tides seep up in wide loops. But this surface, too, is built into large hillocks, so that the edge of the water slants uphill. This means you can see the waves forming but sometimes you can’t see them breaking. On very calm evenings like this one,  at lower vantage points you can only hear them.

But the tide was going out, so I wasn’t too worried about invisible sneaker waves lapping up unexpectedly. We were just standing around while Cotton zoomed and I handed out treats here and there, when one of my favorite neighbors came walking down the beach with his old dog Candy. This guy likes to talk, and he’s often curious about my plant-based lifestyle, so we started chatting about what he’d seen on his walk.  Then, behind him, I spied another neighbor coming back from the same direction with her dog, Merlin, who absolutely loves with abandon my two Silkens. He’s often so happy to see them he “kisses” them–which they tolerate in their more aloof Silken style, but do not reciprocate. I hadn’t seen her in a while, so we waved at each other enthusiastically, hugged when she caught up to Jay and I, and then joined our little conversational cabal of humans and happy dogs.

As our conversation settled in, I noticed my legs were getting tired. When that happens I have no compunction about just sitting down on the sand. One dog, probably Romeo, had already placed himself in sphinx like position on one side of me. So I sat down, and soon Cotton took up residence on the other side of me, which, as I mentioned in this post from last year, is often how we assemble ourselves when taking a break in public outdoor parks and beaches.

Despite the fact that it was mostly overcast, as it’s been most days this summer while inland temperatures rise, the sand was still warm. It was like sitting on a pillow heated just to perfection, and I relaxed on to it. I looked out over the horizon and saw the lovely break of blue hovering just over it. It was so peaceful to look out on the calm and the contrasts as we chatted that I began to feel quite centered and grounded in the moment.

Then Jay and Annette both noticed how the dogs were just sitting there peacefully beside me. We could tell the beach was beginning to cool off for the night, but their observation, somewhat couched in wonder at something I often take or granted, made me all the more comfortable. And it brought back to me the experience I had last September sitting up above this stretch of beach, which at that time was exposed bedrock, since the ocean had completely taken away the sand. I wrote about that experience in the post Woosh. If you haven’t read it, you might want to go back and take a look. Because as I sat there with the dogs on either side of me again, I suddenly felt the urge to share the story of my accident and near death experience with my neighbors. They loved my story, and each remarked how rare it is these days that someone even knows how to tell one. It made me happy that they thought I was someone who could.

By the time we were done, the blue out on the horizon was fading and it was time to go home and eat dinner. As we walked back up the hill toward our house, it suddenly occurred to me that I had found my “recombobulation area” right there on the sand, seated between my dogs, my friends listening to me tell, and feel open to telling them, about one of the most extraordinary events in my life, one that has guided me ever since it occurred. I had, indeed, stumbled right into the recombobulation area I had joked about wanting to find.

And so, as is my inclination, I drew a sketch of the view from it, in gratitude, and I share it here with you. Finding one’s compass can happen by accident, when I least expect it. I so trust that. And I’m glad I do.

Maria (moonwatcher)




Leave a Comment

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sue August 17, 2018 at 8:29 am

Lonely empty comment space here inviting me to express how much I enjoy your posts and the realization that I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to tell you! Thank you for the lovely creations you share…
Sue in Ohio


2 Maria Theresa Maggi August 17, 2018 at 8:58 am

Thank you so much, Sue in Ohio! I really appreciate knowing this! 🙂


3 Lee August 18, 2018 at 7:03 am

Hi Maria, beautiful post, as always! Got me thinking about my own “recombobulation” areas—and how I need to find one in my new(ish) neighborhood!


4 Maria Theresa Maggi August 19, 2018 at 8:31 pm

Thanks, Lee! 🙂 Wishing you the sweet discovery of your own “recombobulation areas” in your newish neighborhood! xo


5 Gena August 19, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Dear friend,

I’ve been looking for my “recombobulation area” all weekend long, and just when I’d made peace with the fact that I wasn’t going to find it, I found it in this blog post. Thank you.



6 Maria Theresa Maggi August 19, 2018 at 8:32 pm

Oh Gena, bless your heart. I just read your frame for weekend reading and will comment there as well. I’m so moved this post helped you in the way it did. You are most welcome. xoxo


7 Deborah Harris September 28, 2018 at 8:25 pm

oh of course
like Gena
this is my recombobulation place too

that’s why I subconsciously choose not to read your blogs when they come out but instead get to sit and read and sift and sort through my responses all in a lengthy session that always leaves me feeling better, even when I didn’t know I could feel better



thank you so very much

PS And I too have a long connection and attachment to the word ‘discombobulate’ and use it often to other people’s amusement


8 Maria Theresa Maggi September 28, 2018 at 8:37 pm

Thank you Deborah–I’m happy my blog is your recombobulation place!! Discombobulate is such a great word, isn’t it? 🙂


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