by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
October 24, 2006
YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE ALONE TO FEEL ALONE
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- My son Tom told me his five-year-old daughter wept as she watched "Castaway" with Tom Hanks when "Wilson," a volleyball that survived the crash along with Hanks (soon becoming his only companion), was floating out of reach forever.
Hanks' character had painted human features on Wilson, talked to him, laughed with him, yelled at him, vented his frustrations on him and satisfied one human need we all have: the one for companionship.
Little Lauren understood this. To her, Wilson was very real and she knew he was important to Hank's survival - until he drifted away, leaving Hanks alone once more and totally without hope. To Lauren, as long as he had Wilson, he was okay.
I wasn't on a deserted island a few weeks ago, but I was very alone and felt hopeless about getting through my set of circumstances. I was driving alone on a very busy highway, an hour before dawn. My rational was that I'd get a head start on commuter traffic, as I have done in the past. My daughter reached into the car and hung a little silk pumpkin embroidered with Jack-O'-Lantern features on my rear-view mirror.
"That's in keeping with the season, Mom, have a great trip." And so, we pulled out of the driveway heading toward I-65 South. It wasn't until I approached Indianapolis that I felt encroached upon. Trucks can only use two left lanes and can't go into the left lane at all, not even to pass. However, when they passed each other, two huge transport trucks, there was no left lane!
And then, the rains came. Windows were up tight, it wasn't daytime yet, humidity was fogging the windows, cars ahead had on hazard lights, trucks edged me onto the fright-provoking rumble strips on the left shoulder - although the signs said "No Left Shoulder." I started tightening my grip on the steering wheel.
It was only when we passed the airport that half the traffic headed for the exit ramp. The trucks and I did not slow down - how could I? - but at least I was in the right lane and able to head off and toward a truck stop.
Breakfast was wonderfulm and at least by then I had 75 miles under my belt. I spoke with a truck driver who had finished eating and was leisurely sipping his second cup of coffee. "What time does the sun come up? I asked. "7:42" he answered. I laughed because he was so precise. He said, "I know for sure since I'm not licensed to drive until daylight." I didn't ask why.
I asked about the heavy truck traffic during the same hours commuters are using the roads. He spoke disparagingly about the "90-day wonders" who go to truck driving schools and hit the roads before they're ready to know the rules of the road. "Oh, they know the rules, but not the traditions that have been built up over the last 60 years."
Daylight came and I started out again. "Okay, Jack, let's hit the road." The little pumpkin kept smiling with his black, one-tooth smile and his triangular eyes all a-twinkle. We had a pleasant 200 miles, an audio book was interesting and the rest stops welcoming.
Then, totally without warning, the clouds opened up and poured out a solid stream of water that bounced off trucks and blinded drivers. We were going around mountain roads where trucks were limited to 55 mph and passenger cars could go 65 mph. The trucks didn't slow down but most cars did.
It was horrendous. But I wasn't alone. Instead of gripping my steering wheel as I had earlier, I glanced toward "Jack."
He was smiling. "What are you smiling about," I asked. "Help me."
"Don't look at me, talk to God, I can't help you."
"I'm not asking you to help, I'm asking you to listen.
"Is that too much to ask? Can you listen, can you hear my pain?"
"Okay," said Smiling Jack, "I can feel for you but only you can work your way over and take a ramp off of this."
"Work my way over, I wish I could work my way over. Do you see the fog on the back window, I don't know where the rear defrost is."
"You're driving blind, you know."
"Yes, I do know, thank you very much, and I am praying, but haven't you heard 'God helps those who help themselves'?"
"So, He's waiting to see how we handle it on our own?"
"He's waiting while 'We' work our way out of it?"
"Listen, Jack, I know what you're saying and I know I shouldn't be yelling at you, but when I talk to God it's with a quiet voice in a quiet place."
Just then, we were rerouted around an accident. It took an hour to see what happened and while waiting we saw the Life Flight helicopter land and then lift off, flying off to save a life. An SUV was crushed as if a compactor had grabbed it. It had smashed into the rear of a bus.
I saw bus passengers, about 30 or 40 pale senior citizens, lined up on the edge of the road, rain still falling. They were carrying pastel-colored gym bags with their personal belongings. This was one adventure they'd rather not write home about. Another bus came for them, our traffic resumed.
Jack and I drove on in silence. The atmosphere in our little car was somber and I faced the continuing journey for what it was: a way to get home.
If I learned anything it is that security is surely one of our human needs. Toddlers know this and cling to a blanket or toy or even an imaginary friend. I found "someone" to talk to, but not so deeply that I missed the important message found in remembering the accident and the lineup on the side of the road.
"There but for the grace of God go I." Or, should I say "us?"