From the letter I wrote to my parents 38 years ago comes the reminder of winters spent in Montana, Colorado and Idaho, where winter brings snow and freezing temperatures. That year we were living in rural Colorado and I had driven 15 miles to have dinner with a friend. A major snow storm had been predicted but was not expected until late that night or early the next morning. So it came as a surprise, as I left to drive home, that a lot of snow had fallen already. The roads were just wet, however, so I chose my usual route - a small, 2-lane back road - thinking I’d be home in no time. Instead, I drove into a tremendous blizzard, where the visibility was nearly zero. Driving into the massive snow drifts on either side of the road, I finally became mired. In trying to dig myself out, my legs, hands and hair became soaked. No lights were visible anywhere, so I returned to the relative safety of the jeep. I was so fortunate. Even though I’d been raised with tales of people freezing to death trying to walk to safety, and knew better than to try, to this day I don’t know for sure that I wouldn’t have tried, had I seen a light. Such is the nature of the human mind in a panic.
This, of course, was before we carried cell phones or used GPS, or any of the other technological devises we all so depend upon today. I have never felt so alone and helpless. I remember wondering what would happen if the snow covered the Jeep entirely - would I go stark, raving mad? As it was, I did the only thing I could - prayed. I asked to be spared, of course, but then other thoughts came to mind. I asked that I accept whatever my fate might be with dignity and grace, that my husband and the rest of my family be comforted, if it came to that. I asked for forgiveness and named those I forgave. A strange sort of peace came over me and I knew then that I was not really alone.
The candle gave off light and a little warmth, and as I took comfort from that I heard a noise and looked up to see a set of lights moving my way. Snow plow! The driver stopped, told me I still could not go home as the road was drifting over behind him, dug me out, turned me around and had me follow him back to a small community near where I had started. I still can see those small lights ahead, forging the way and leading me to safety. Later I learned that snow plow drivers were not supposed to stop for stranded drivers except in life or death situations.
A quick call home, a cup of hot coffee, a caravan with about 50 other people to a nearby Baptist Church for a pew to sleep on and three meals the next day. That church took in stranded travelers during any big storm and probably still does.
Finally driving home late the next day, I realized the dashboard of that Jeep was covered with a thick layer of ice from opening the door during my frantic efforts. It was then that I truly realized just how fortunate I was, how we take for granted so much that we shouldn't, how much we need to respect the forces of nature - particularly snow storms. I’d only been stuck in that blizzard for 90 minutes - in some ways, a lifetime.
O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name...
You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm
and shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm diving against a wall
and like the heat of the desert.
Isaiah 24:1 & 4
*Interestingly, the photographs above are NOT black and white. They appear that way, apparently, due to the almost total lack of color during a snow storm in the dead of night...