Monday, February 7, 2011

Braving the Ice

When I initially made plans to drive back to Fort Worth after a couple of days of rehearsals back in Houston, last week's storm wasn't even on the radar.  As my travel day dawned, however, it became apparent that the trip would be a little more challenging than usual.  Most of the drive was just very windy, but as I drew nearer to Fort Worth, icy roads presented a challenge to which most Texas drivers are not accustomed.  As one might expect, the transformed roads led to transformed behavior for some people.

Normally, busy roads around here are an "every man for himself" affair, but the icy conditions made it impossible for people to go speeding along in an imitation of the Autobahn.  For a long stretch of the treacherous road, our cars were in a slow, single-file caravan, etching a cautious path through the ice.  Instead of driving in the midst of the typical road rally, I was a part of a united effort to navigate the roads safely.  Cars would exit or merge gradually into the determined stream of drivers, relying on one another's judgment and courtesy in a most unusual way.

We seemed to be crawling along, but the conditions demanded it.  At one point, a little red pickup wasn't satisfied with the pace, and attempted to go a little faster than the long line of cars.  The passing lane, being less traveled, had a much thicker layer of ice with no ruts from a caravan of cautious drivers.  When the little red pickup hit a patch of ice and went spinning off the road, it was confirmation that we were doing something right by taking things slowly and carefully.  I might have stopped or called for assistance for that driver if my entire focus hadn't been on my own safety.

Once I got into Fort Worth, the icy roads were still a hazard, but drivers were no longer banding together.  There were fewer cars on the road than usual, but each driver was going it alone.  The road conditions hadn't changed, but without the solidarity of a string of other drivers the experience was a bit more harrowing.  Still, slow and cautious got me home.  It was a great comfort to have that experience of safety in numbers, even though the last portion of the trip was on my own.  And really, it had to be.  None of the other drivers were actually going to my specific destination, so I couldn't possibly follow a caravan all the way to my doorstep.

Which is the blessing and the challenge of solidarity.  When that long stretch of vehicles slowly arced onto an exit ramp going to some other nearby community, it was a bit tempting to go along with them just for the perceived safety.  Maybe they know something I don't.  Maybe the way ahead isn't safe.  Or (more likely) they had a different destination than I, even though we shared the road for a portion of the dangerous trip.  How tempting it is to go along with the group, just for safety's sake, or even for comfort's sake.  It can seem disproportionately threatening to follow what one knows to be right when a group of people head in a different direction.

The group has its value, but those benefits must be balanced with trust for one's self.  If I didn't trust myself to handle the road conditions, I never would have made it home that night.  Sometimes trust is misplaced, and we hopefully learn to fine tune our perceptions.  The group experience can help to strengthen our discernment, so we don't go spinning off the road entirely, and a trustworthy group can help to keep us focused on the path we've chosen.  No group can replace self-knowledge, though.  When conflict arises, I believe it's important to remember what matters most and follow that compass.

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