I repeated these words as I navigated my vehicle on snow-covered roads on Tuesday afternoon.
The clock read 4 p.m. when my co-workers and I left work early.
Closed the building.
Cancelled evening classes.
We used our scrapers to brush our cars like teeth, watching the piles of snowfall away from our headlights as the wind cut through our bones and flushed our cheeks with cold.
As I began the drive home, I quickly realized the roads weren’t just covered in snow. These roads were layered with snow, white and powdery and thick like butter cream frosting. As if Mother Nature decided she’d take up baking and whipped together a frozen vanilla butter cream treat with extra powdered sugar for the Mitten State.
Only the butter cream is snow and powdered sugar is more snow and the sugar is ice and the vanilla is my fear, though my type of fear is the opposite of plain Jane vanilla.
My fear is thick and antsy and anxious, drilled into me from years of my dad questioning my driving skills. Now I questioned my driving skills, too, as I stared down these country roads with the drifting and the blowing and the snow that looked like layered butter cream frosting.
I wasn’t in the mood for dessert.
So I prayed to God with the radio off and my knuckles white as I gripped the steering wheel. I prayed to God to please get me home as the windshield wipers made squeaky noises and the snow made groaning noises when it compacted and caved under the belly of my low-sitting car. I sounded like my car was eating the snow, with its low front grill and the grumbling like an empty stomach getting filled and the slowing feeling as I drove, as if my car wanted to savor the snow like a dinner dish.
I wondered if snow was my car’s favorite thing to eat.
Mother Nature saw we were getting too comfortable with Michigan’s surprisingly mild winter, I thought as I attempted to stop at a stop sign, then slid right through it like my car had no brakes.
Mother Nature must have seen we were resting on our laurels. She heard my husband Adam and I laughing as we gazed at the unused shovel we bought back in November.
The full salt bags in our garage.
The photos I took of green grass and uncovered pavement on February 20. Less than two weeks ago.
We got too comfortable.
That was our mistake.
Though I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life and get that it snows here, I still get anxious when schools cancel and businesses close and meteorologists stand in front of purple and blue-covered Doppler radar maps. I feel out of control and uncertain, haunted by that time in high school when I drove a 1989 burgundy Mustang with cow-covered seats and hanging dice in the mirror. I loved that car, but that car did not love Michigan winters.
On my way to school one winter morning during senior year, my tail end fished and the wheels slipped. Next thing I knew, the beautiful plastic green mailbox of our school’s superintendent was broken and down on the front yard, lying on its side like a knocked out boxer. My car had a dent and my legs felt like jelly as I knocked on the door to tell the superintendent yes, I just hit his mailbox. Whoops.
With each road that I crossed today, the conditions changed like a backwards dinner menu. There was the butter cream dessert road, but then there was the road with lumps of snow broken up by smoothness where people had been before. The contrast of the smooth and the lumps reminded me of mashed potatoes. Other areas of the road were crisper and clearer thanks to other vehicles paving their way through first. An appetizer.
A realization dawned on me as I drove home, though. I saw the lumps of snow, the smooth tracks, the drifts and the wind. I braced myself as other cars drove by me going the opposite way. Other cars passed each other, kicking up snow like a horse kicks up dust.
With my hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, frustration filled my veins as I made my way home, mile by mile. I just wanted to be home. I felt envious of other people driving large trucks with big wheels and four-wheel drives, their full gas tanks and high confidence levels.
My fingers tightened as I braced myself to approach a group of cars driving towards me in the other lane. I was nervous they would swerve or I would swerve and we would collide and it’d be a mess of snow and metal.
Just stay in your lane, I thought. Stay in your lane.
And with those words, I realized the irony of the situation. “Stay in your lane” is a phrase I’ve seen a lot of lately, and it really is great advice. We can’t control how others live, or how much “better” they us they are, or how much “farther ahead” they get.
All we can do is stay in our lane. All we have control of is ourselves.
On my way home today, I had one job: Make it home safely. That responsibility rested on my shoulders alone because I was the only one behind the wheel. Other cars passed me. Other trucks plowed through the snow much easier than my snow-hungry Ford Fusion that sits low and groans as it plows through the snow.
I couldn’t trade places with any of the other drivers on the road. This was my journey to take. It was up to me to get me home. Frankly, it didn’t matter if other trucks were bigger or faster or other people were navigating their cars easier than I did.
I had to stay in my lane. And that’s how it goes for life, too. At the end of the day, we are safer and more secure if we focus on our own journey.
Amy Poehler wrote a line in her memoir that I love: "Good for her, not for me." What may be best for someone else is certainly not best for others. You do you.
As I turned onto my lumpy and drifty road, I said to myself, “Stay in your lane” when I drove past a UPS truck. One left turn later and I pulled into my driveway, grateful to be home. Grateful for this metaphor and the reminder that all we have control over is ourselves, and even then, much like the weather, circumstances can affect how we navigate life. But it’s all part of the journey, I suppose.
The irony? As my garage door creaked open, the dry pavement welcoming my car to come in out of the storm, my car groaned again. I tried to inch forward, but the wheels would not budge.
My car is stuck in my driveway right now. Stuck directly in front of the garage. Safe from others, but not the elements. My car is unable to move forward. It is sitting outside, parked in the middle of the storm.
I think there’s another life metaphor here, but I’ll save that for another day.
Stay warm, friends.