I had an interesting night last night.
It began in Orlando, where I had been spending the past few days running around Harry Potter World and Disney with my sister on a girls-only getaway. (I told my children I was going to make sure the parks were safe for them. Suckers.) The plan was to stay until Wednesday night, but when we got word of the impending Nor’easter, preemptively named Quinn, we shifted our flights to early Wednesday morning.
About an hour later, mine got cancelled.
After sitting on hold for almost an hour (during which time I waited for and rode Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin), the JetBlue representative gave me the lowdown: I couldn’t get a flight anywhere near home for three days, so I was stranded in Florida…unless I wanted to jump on a plane to JFK that was leaving in four hours.
90 minutes later, I was at the airport.
It was hard saying goodbye to my sister so abruptly after we had planned this trip for months and were expecting to have another 24 hours together – like the shock of cold when the hot water gets shut off. The time alone to be stupid and have fun was something we’d both desperately needed, and we weren’t yet ready for real life. Alas, real life was ready for us, so off I went.
The flight back was smooth; I watched “Get Out” and tried not to buy throw pillows on Amazon. And just like that, the summer of Florida was swapped for the frigid, pre-Nor’easter cold of New York City. The change of scenery was so stark I kept looking around the place like Dorothy in Oz, staring at my fellow passengers on the AirTran like they were mythical characters. Are those real New Yorkers? How did I get here?
Fifteen minutes later, I was in a rental car headed for the Verrazanno Bridge. It was 10:15 at night, and I was still two hours from home. Again, I was struck by the distance I was travelling in such a short amount of time, traversing three states in a matter of hours. People do this sort of thing every day – I myself have done it plenty of times before – but for some reason, the scale of it seemed beyond my comprehension.
And then, about 30 minutes from home, it began to snow. Hard. It was approaching midnight now, and the only other vehicles on the road were the big, rumbling trucks that crisscross the country at ungodly hours and scare the crap out of the little guys in the slow lane (i.e., me). This stretch of I-95 was poorly lit, but when I put on my brights, they reflected off the snow, making the road near impossible to see.
My grip on the wheel tightened. I involuntarily muttered a mantra-like prayer – “God, please get me home safely” – and leaned toward the windshield, doing everything I could not to panic.
And then that quote from E.L. Doctorow popped into my head: “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
In this case, I wasn’t writing a novel (although I am writing one), but was literally driving my car at night, in a snowstorm, and could barely see beyond my headlights. My focus zoomed in from the thousands of miles I had logged earlier to the white line three feet beyond my car, which quickly disappeared and was replaced by another. I steadied my breathing and kept my eye on those lines: one, then the next, then the next…
Just after midnight, I pulled in front of my house, shaky but relieved. I sat in wonderment at what I had just been through; I felt like I had lived a lifetime in five hours.
Perhaps every journey we take, large or small, is its own mini-lifetime, with lessons to harvest like apples off of trees. As Patrick Rothfuss says, “A long stretch of road will teach you more about yourself than a hundred years of quiet introspection.” Last night’s odyssey taught me two important things.
The first: Nature always wins.
And the second: We may not always want to take the journey. Sometimes, we won’t even understand how it began or how we ended up where we have. But either way, we go forward. And when we are lost, we let ourselves be guided not by the big picture in our minds, but by the next white line, then the next, and the next.
In the end, they are all we need to make it home.