In all fairness, I had some warning there was a problem on the road ahead. A flashing sign at the edge of the dark interstate alerted motorists to tune to a certain radio frequency for “Important Travel Information!” I ignored it, of course, since I knew there was significant bridge construction ahead that for years had narrowed the interstate to one lane.
Out of boredom, mostly, I accessed the station when I saw the flashing sign again after a few miles. The message was nearly inaudible with static, but I heard snippets about an accident roughly 45 minutes ahead. The suggested detour was a two-hour diversion through various state roads that switched back through the mountain passes. I didn’t want to navigate that bypass late at night by myself, so I forged ahead.
All was well until I realized traffic was slowing dramatically. Suddenly, there was a parking lot of stopped vehicles when I rounded a hard curve. Clearly, the accident must be bad. I joined those already at a standstill and was quickly backed up by a seemingly unending line of other cars.
A light rain was falling and other than the sprinkle of tail lights, the night was black as pitch. Before long most motorists turned off their engines, and eventually the huge truck to my right did the same. Not a good sign.
I had the luxury of being without a schedule (rare for me) and theoretically could have handled the delay without anxiety. Soon, though, I felt the familiar tendrils of fear curling into my space. It was an eerie setting. I wondered about the people in the cars and trucks around me. Were they safe folks? Could they see I was travelling alone? What would I do if someone approached me?
The horror stories told at teenage sleepovers or church camp came flooding back. You know, the man with the hooked “arm” who stalked parking spots at night and snatched unsuspecting people from the safety of their cars. I told myself I was being ridiculous, which of course, I was.
It was odd to feel so alone in the middle of probably hundreds of cars, some only a few feet away. Yet the sense of isolation was unnerving. If only I had someone with me! I thought of how many people, especially those affected by addiction or other enormous issues, feel profoundly alone. Regardless of busy lives filled with large numbers of human encounters, too many individuals are trapped in the isolation of their pain.
Grateful for good cell service and a nearly full battery, I called my husband. His internet research revealed a tractor trailer had jackknifed and spilled its load across all lanes of the interstate. The estimated time to clear the wreckage was several more hours away, and David encouraged me to get comfortable and settle in for a long night.
I retrieved my pillow and favorite quilt from the trunk (and was relieved to chat with a very nice couple from the car behind me who had gotten out to stretch) and dozed off and on through the next hours. Mostly, though, I just sat and thought.
Sometimes life stops you in your tracks with a spillover of problems. Many current situations are beyond my control, and too often I stew about what might be coming down the road ahead. Instead of anxiously trying to figure things out and rashly forging through the mess, it might be better to rest at a standstill.
Accept the invitation to not fight the “pause” hours of life. Turn off the rumbling thoughts in your head and surrender your fears. Realize that some of your choices have brought you to this point, and you are exactly where you’re supposed to be: In the center of a teachable, growth producing space.
It’s a gift, really, to give yourself permission to just be. To wait for the lessons of the hour. To not make a decision when the way isn’t clear. To connect, instead, with those you know are safe. To invite God into the standstill place. To simply wait in God’s company for the rain to stop, the stars to appear, and the way forward to open.
Marnie C. Ferree