Only One Way to Go: Down

I was driving a van up a one-way, steep mountain incline. Four of us were on our way to a mountaintop retreat with a van packed with luggage and accessories. I whipped around one steep turn and gunned it in first as I plodded up the hill when a horribly sick sinking feeling struck me: this van was not going to make it. It bogged down and nearly stalled. The power had dissipated. The only thing which was still going higher was the engine temperature. A driving predicament presented itself in vivid tropical terms: to the left was a steep cliff down to a quick death, to the right was walled cliff straight up, to the front was the steep grade my van couldn’t conquer, so only one option remained. Down.

As I looked in my rear view mirror, I didn’t like this option any better than the other three. Well, okay, it was better than the cliff to my left. The mirror revealed a narrow steep path I would have to back down. At the bottom of the grade was a hairpin turn that I would have to make in reverse with a van full of people. If I missed the turn, we would scoot into a large gully. I didn’t like our chances. I wanted better odds, but if I couldn’t get better odds, at least I hoped I had good brakes. I didn’t want to back this down, but there was no other choice. We couldn’t very well stay stuck on the steep grade for eternity.

So with the clutch pushed in, I started backing down, now hoping, trusting, and wishing on the brakes.

Life, from time to time, gives us little moments to increase our awareness of our own humanity. One slight misdirect and it all goes crashing over the cliff. The heart rate increases, the tense eyes are brought tenser by the dour movement of the eyebrows, muscles contract, the voice is slightly raised and urgent, sights and sounds are zoomed into a narrow focus — keep it tight, keep it real, stay focused, a lot rides on this — and you give it all you have to make it right, even if it doesn’t feel right in your gut.

When was the last time you felt like this? When was the last time that circumstances gave you a lesson in humanity, its frailness, its fickleness, its fleet-footed-ness?

In this particular case, I backed the van down to the lip of the curve, and as providence would have it, a van-sized pull-off was on the right. All I had to do was pull up the hill a smidgen, back carefully into the pull-off without my front tire falling off the cliff on the right, and I was on flat ground in the middle of mountain. I could breathe again.

Whatever cliff you are next to, keep the focus, look for the nearest pull-off and remind yourself that it’s a good day to be alive.

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