On Wednesday morning, the sun was shining brightly.
The sky was blue. The air was fresh. The temperature was 67 degrees, and I just couldn't bear to leave it.
At home, the skies were gloomy and cold. There was snow on the ground and a million responsibilities were waiting for me. Here, on vacation in southern Utah, my family was together. We were having fun. We used the sun to warm our backs as we scaled piles of sandstone, scrambled over petrified dunes and hiked just long enough for our feet to hurt and our peanut butter and honey sandwiches to taste delicious.
I couldn't bear to leave it.
So, Wednesday morning, we took our time. We took a detour. We arrived at Zion National Park and decided to do one last hike together before driving home.
And this is where I began to learn my lesson — a lesson that came with clear instructions to tell my children what happened in the hopes that someday, they would remember.
My family loves to hike — or at least, they tolerate it. Even the 3-year-old can handle a 4-mile hike pretty well with minimal carrying and cajoling. I think they like the thrill that comes from being alone in nature. I think they feel empowered by their bodies to move and be wild among the lizards and juniper bushes. Their dreams are bigger. They feel invincible and vulnerable at the same time, and it is exciting.
Sometimes their freedom becomes a little dangerous.
On this particular hike, the trail went up to an overlook. A passerby warned us of the steep drop-offs along the way as our kids ran ahead on the flat ground. As we reached the incline, my husband and I held the younger children's hands. The 3-year-old was amenable, the 6-year-old was not.
We put our bodies on the outside of the bends in the trail, closest to the drop-off, and tightly squeezed their hands to keep them from getting too far ahead. At one point, my husband hollered at the 6-year-old to stay close. The trail cut straight into the mountain, and anyone who fell off its ledge would surely be seriously injured, if not killed. He balked, but relented, and our family of five walked in a tight line past the dangerous portion of the trail back to safety.
The closer we were, the safer we were.
Two hours later, as we were halfway through our four-hour drive home, the sunny sky faded to black and ominous clouds swirled all around us. Suddenly, we couldn't see the road in front of us.
The wind howled as millions of tiny snowflakes enveloped our car. Looking ahead, all we could see was an infinite mass of white zooming toward our windshield like stars speeding past the window of a rocket on hyper-drive in deep space.
We were scared. The kids were distracted, watching movies, but I felt a terror rising deep in my throat that felt like I couldn't breathe. I recognized the sincere possibility that my family would end up in a ditch somewhere on this dark road in the middle of nowhere. My pulse was racing. My hands were clenched. I just wanted it to end.
At the worst point, we noticed three semi-trailer trucks driving in a line along the side of the road. Their taillights were like a beacon. They were slow and steady, marking the way. When we couldn't see the lines ourselves, we moved over and joined the line. Immediately, we felt safer. We were still scared, but it was better. We were no longer alone.
We followed the caravan for about an hour, feeling on edge the whole time, until it was safer to move on. The harrowing experience lasted another three hours, varying in intensity and danger, until we made it home. I have never been so glad to be home as I was then.
It struck me that the tight line of semis we followed on the freeway was like the tight line my family formed on the hike earlier that day. There is safety in numbers, I learned. There is strength in togetherness. That is the lesson I want my children to know. In times of trial and terror, stick together. Look around at each other and draw strength. See one another, and give love.