January 2, 2007 > Fellow travelers
By Steve Warga
Sometimes in life, the value of the destination we seek pales in comparison to what we may learn along the way. As an example, a friend and I slipped away recently for a weekend break from the congested confines of the East Bay. The vast open spaces of California's Central Valley begged for our attention. Once past the last clot of commuter traffic we reveled in one sweeping vista after another marching past our van's windows throughout the afternoon.
Occasionally, the moderate sunshine even afforded us glimpses of the distant Sierra peaks, dusted in early season snow. But as dusk fell, we found ourselves face-to-face with a traveler's nightmare as the Valley's notorious tule fog rose like a smoky cloud conjured by an evil god.
To drivers both amateur and professional, few hazards intimidate more thoroughly than heavy fog. An impenetrable curtain of white obscured all but the most immediate of our reference points. Headlights on low beam were nearly useless, yet trying high beams allowed the fog crystals to cruelly hurl the light back in our face. Following established safety procedures, we reduced speed somewhat, but not so much as to become a hazard. We also cracked open a window, despite the cold; hearing enhances awareness. Finally, we crossed our fingers, hoping to avoid one of those terrifying "Big Ones" that make the evening news. With these precautions, chances favored our safety . . . until darkness fell.
When even the faded gray light of dusk disappeared, the worst began. Or so it seemed to us until we discovered a curious phenomenon at night in the fog: the darker the night, the brighter the lights of vehicles around us. On this weekend escape from the crowds, we found ourselves embracing all the traffic to be found! Each pair of taillights glowing in the mist ahead helped us see further than we could see alone. Thanks to those fellow travelers whom we never knew by name, our own journey progressed far more smoothly. We reached our motel safely, its welcoming lights bravely battling the gauzy gloom.
Perhaps our fog encounter formed a kind of snapshot of society at large. For the most part, we each pursue our dreams and aspirations with some expectation of favorable conditions. Yet, hazards and challenges often arise like the tule fog, obscuring horizons, impairing vision.
At some point in our personal struggles we may notice others struggling too. Somehow, knowing this lends us courage. With renewed strength we forge ahead. Like a line of candle-bearing pilgrims climbing a narrow mountain path, we link the lights of our lives to a chain of humanity extending back to the dawn of civilization when men and women first gathered in groups of mutual support and interests.
My, how we've progressed since then! The accumulated experiences and wisdom of each generation provides a guiding light to those following who will, in their turn, light the road a bit further. The courage of one encourages many, affording each individual greater opportunity for growth and learning. In the end, this helping of one another along the way may well be the noblest endeavor of all.