Nighttime. I’m driving a two-lane highway. I like two-lanes. I like old fence posts. Old barns. I like all sorts of things.
I like driving. It puts me at ease.
You have no reason to care about this, but I used to worry a lot. After my father passed, I was afraid of everything.
As a boy, sometimes I’d lie in bed and feel so scared I couldn’t catch my breath. I don’t know what I was afraid of. Nobody tells you grief feels just like fear.
I was afraid. Plain and simple. Afraid my family would die. Car accidents were another particular fear. I was afraid of vacant houses, doctors, hurricanes, tsunamis, realtors.
Of course, it wasn’t like this before my daddy pulled his own plug. Once, I played baseball, ate ice cream, and fished in creeks.
But fear has a way of taking over. At night, I’d wonder if death was going to swallow me whole. Irrational, I know. But young boys aren’t rational.
When I was fourteen, my friend and I snuck out of Saturday night prayer meeting. We were there with his grandmother. She was a sweet, white-haired woman who memorized Bible verses and smoked like a tugboat.
My pal leaned against his grandmother’s car and jingled her keys which he’d taken from her purse.
“Wanna go for a drive?” he said.
“Right now?” I said. “During prayer meeting?”
His smile was a wild one.
I didn’t want to. I was—you can probably guess—too afraid. I was afraid we’d wreck. Afraid we’d wake up in county lock-up with orange jumpsuits and a roommate named Bad Bart McThroatslicer.
But my friend wasn’t like me. He wasn’t afraid. He begged me to get in the car.
It was terrifying, but I did it.
We rode his grandmother’s vehicle down gravel roads at slow speeds. We saw deer cross the highway. We avoided possums and coons. We didn’t pass a single car, only empty farmland.
It did something to me. It calmed me. Neither of us said much. We only took in the country miles.
Finally, he parked near a creek. He pitched me the keys.
“Your turn to drive,” he said.
“ME?” I said. “No way.”
“Suit yourself,” he said. “But I ain’t driving us back. We’ll be in a heap of trouble if you don’t.”
He jumped out of the car and sat on the edge of the creek, legs dangling.
Why couldn’t I be fearless?
My breathing got fast. Sweat accumulated on my forehead. I took the keys and started the car. He jumped in.
And thus, I drove us home with both of my trembling hands on the wheel.
That’s it. I know it’s not a great story, but that night I did feel something. I wish I could tell you that I felt less afraid, but that wasn’t it.
I felt sort of strong. And sometimes, feeling strong can make fear easier. Even when you’re driving in the dark. Being strong. That counts for a lot.
Right now, I’m passing farmland. The stars are putting on a great show. It all reminds me that the fella writing you is stronger than he knows. And the same goes for you.
So I don’t know where you are tonight, or who you are, or what kind of private hell you’re going through. But some fella you’ve never even met stayed up late to write this for you.
It’s okay to be afraid.
But don’t forget how strong you are.