Last Tuesday I spent 13 hours traveling 25 miles in an Atlanta snowstorm. At the beginning, my journey veered between frustration and fear, but eventually it turned into yet another series of life lessons in gratitude and discovery. Here’s what I learned.
It is better to fill up sooner versus later.
Tuesdays are my day to head to a yoga class 25 miles south of home. The weather forecast called for “possible” snow flurries, but there was no emphatic warning to stay off the roads. After a few calls to check in with my children’s schools, and receiving reassurance they were staying the course until the end of the school day, I headed out. I didn’t take a coat, as I was planning on coming right back home after my class. I had enough gas to go another 25 miles as I approached the studio. I made a mental note to get gas on the way home. That was my first bad call—and life lesson.
As I was walking out of class, the snow began to fall. I thought to myself,” Perfect timing! I will run a quick errand, head home, stop for gas and be home before the roads get bad, if they do.” Little did I know what was about to transpire. Schools and businesses were closed simultaneously, putting hundreds of thousands of Atlanta-area residents on major highways and surface streets in a massive exodus as the snowflakes turned into snow flurries.
Relax – nothing is under control.
The moon and the stars had aligned, and some of us were in for the ride of our lives – no pun intended. It quickly became apparent that something was going terribly wrong. After sitting in the same place for over thirty minutes, watching the traffic light ahead of me change from green to yellow to red again and again, I realized I had to come up with a different plan. I tried alternate routes, but kept ending up in a dead-end situation. I turned to navigation and saw that all major roads were backed up. My gas was running out. My patience had only begun to be tested.
There was a mall nearby, so my initial plan was to park and hang out -until things calmed down. May I just say – bad plan. I was only there for a half an hour as I watched the few people that were there wandering around as if nothing was going on. I wondered, “What are they thinking?” Then I wondered – “what am I thinking?” As the stores began to close, I exited and went to my car, knowing the first plan had to be to get gas. There was a gas station across the street so I headed that way. As it turns out, that was no small feat. I was behind the mall and had to make my way to the front of the mall to exit and cross the street to enter the gas station. Over an hour later, I made it! I was able to fill up and get on the road toward home.
The snow was blowing furiously and the street was a solid sheet of ice. I was in gridlock with the rest of Atlanta. In three hours, I had made it three miles. Once I realized my journey had barely begun, I had to release my frustrations, because I was not in control.
There is grace in every situation if we look for it.
I finally made it off the side streets and onto a major surface street, headed home. I began inching my way forward alongside everyone else. There were people pulled over on the side of the road everywhere, people out of their car walking around, and the sound of tires spinning freely on the ice as drivers hit the accelerator in hopes of moving forward. I watched countless cars fishtail and slide sideways and run into each other. It was as if I was a character in a bad horror movie. I was still 19 miles away from home. I had my cell phone and I had a charger cord and a full tank of gas, but the true saving grace of it all was the new set of tires just installed the week before on my very heavy car. These were features which I had not been fond of in the past-a heavy vehicle requires frequent tire and brake replacements-but for today I was thankful. My heavy car, so often a source of frustration, had become my saving grace.
Good friends are priceless, especially in a crisis.
I needed to hear a friendly voice, so I called a good friend. She stayed on the phone with me for the next 3 hours as I inched my way up the interstate. I gave her a play-by-play of what I was experiencing, and she lent a compassionate ear and a supportive tone, keeping me in check when things got really bad. As I continued to trek forward, there was a decision to be made. How would I try to go home? The highway exits were impassible parking lots. Even if I could get over to them with my car, they were blocked by abandoned vehicles. After much deliberation, we decided on the exit. This turned out to be a good idea, as it got me off the major highway. I learned later that the road was closed just north of my usual exit, as the road had become impassible. I inched my way off the road and through the parking lot of abandoned, stuck cars and people walking. I made it to the side road and turned left to make my way closer to home, but ran into difficulty soon at a major intersection with a hill that most cars were sliding down. I made it through, but there was more trouble ahead with another hill and valley and then an even bigger hill. It became clear I wasn’t going to get up the hill in front of me as I watched numerous cars attempt it, only to turn sideways and slide back down or into another car. There were hotels on either side of the hill, and I called them to see if there was availability. Unfortunately, they had been booked since early afternoon. However, my friend stuck with me as I pondered my next move, and helped me to stay calm.
Social media is a powerful vehicle for connection and support.
I made my way to the hotel on my right, joining a growing throng of stranded motorists. There was a lobby, a bathroom, and food. I parked my car and cautiously stepped out, for I had seen too many people step onto the pavement and totally lose it, feet flying in the air and their back and head hitting the pavement. I made it to the lobby and was able to get some snacks and find the restroom. It was standing room only in the lobby, so I headed back to my car.
The night was looming in front of me. I was thankful to be in a public place, in front of a hotel, with gas in my car, snacks in my stomach and a cell phone that worked. I settled in, pulled out my cell phone and posted a comment on Facebook. I shared the struggles of the last 10 hours, and mentioned that I had made it to a hotel parking lot and planned to spend the night. The comments started pouring in, and my phone started ringing with friends showing support and compassion and offering to help. I assured them that I was ok. I was thankful that I had gotten off the major interstate and that I was in front of a hotel and close to resources, although I most certainly would have preferred to be at home. I talked to and responded to friends and family who were calling, sending texts, messages, and making comments on my Facebook page. I felt less alone as I settled into my car for what I thought was the night.
Goodness of the human spirit still exists.
Within minutes I received a call from someone who had seen my Facebook post. Her husband and father were out on a mission to get people home, and they were headed my way! It was an immense act of kindness, but I was concerned about their safety. They had a 4 wheel drive SUV and had been “rescuing “people all night and were in the area near the hotel. I humbly agreed to the plan if they could get to me.
It wasn’t long before my rescue squad arrived. They kindly helped me move my belongings to their car, and offered a blanket to keep me warm. We had just started the trek home when the phone rang again—there was another person stranded at the mall. They asked me if it was alright if we turned around and went back to get him. “Sure, “I replied, “I am just grateful to be here!” Once we had picked up another weary traveler, we headed home, maneuvering around the traffic that still remained along with the accidents, parked cars and ice.
“Good Samaritans still exist,” I thought to myself. What an act of service it was to rescue others, and especially to do with such kindness and humility.
Thirteen hours after I began my journey home we arrived in my driveway. I cannot remember the last time I was so happy to be home! No major damage, car safe in a parking lot and undamaged, nerves a little frayed, but repairable. A great feeling of gratitude throughout my whole being! I thanked my rescuers, as they headed back out on mission to rescue another person and take them home.
As I opened the door and walked into my house I was struck by the events of that very long day. I pondered how easily an ordinary day can turn extraordinary and about the lessons that had been presented to me through it all. Sometimes we need a reminder of the things we have already learned, but let slip away. I recalled my father telling me to fill up sooner versus later when I had started driving years ago. I was reminded of how even in the worst of situations there is a silver lining, that good friends can be lifelines, that ultimately I am not in control (nor is the city of Atlanta or the state of Georgia,) that social media has a positive side I had not contemplated, and the goodness of others is alive and well. Not too bad for 13 hours.