My White-Knuckle Life
Monday night, I drove my husband home from Southern Indiana in a snow storm. We left his meeting a little after 8:30pm, and just as we left, the snow started to come down in buckets. From Salem, Indiana to Franklin, Indiana, my car rarely hit 30mph, and never any faster than that. The road was covered with snow, and snow was pelting down onto my car. Salt and snow debris from the cars in front of me splashed, dirtied, and froze onto my windshield as I desperately tried to keep the windshield clean, practically emptying the reserve tank of washer fluid that Jon had recently (read: the week before) refilled for me.
I stayed as far over to the right as I could without going off the road and inhaled sharply each time a giant semi blew past me, barreling down the road at speeds that were not safe for the conditions we were in. Obstacle after obstacle presented itself to us on our journey home that night. Snow-covered roads, slippery conditions, other vehicles panicking and making bad decisions—which almost created major issues for us, all of these challenges caused me to grab the steering wheel of my SUV and hold on for dear life. I could see the whites from my knuckles, even in the darkness of the night.
About 20 minutes into the drive, when Jon was supposed to be resting, he opened his eyes and realized the situation we were in. The entire rest of the way home, he coached and encouraged me. He helped me navigate tricky situations, he fed me drinks of my Diet Coke so my hands never had to leave the steering wheel, and he made sure that if I had a question, he answered it.
I didn’t have a lot to say on that drive home—too much concentration was required, but at one point, I did ask him for a favor: “Babe, I need you to get out your phone,” I said.
His reply: “Why?”
“I need you to take a picture of the road. I have a writing idea and I need this photo.”
So, he did what I asked, and he took the photo that you see above.
The snow-covered road.
The tire tracks.
The wet precipitation.
The blurred headlights of the cars and trucks around us.
The uncertainty of it all.
I didn’t say much for several minutes after the photo request. And then I shared with Jon that I needed the picture of the snow-covered road. I needed an image that captured not really being able to see where we were going. I needed the picture to invite some anxiety for my readers (sorry, guys).
“Oh, a metaphor,” he said.
And that was it.
I love being married to Jon. He just gets me. And he’s wicked smart, which is pretty hot, if we’re being honest.
As I have reflected on uncertainty over the past few days (months, really), I have really wanted to be intentional in terms of what I say about it. We have been white-knuckling it through our lives for most of the last six months. Cancer has taken its toll, and yesterday, when our youngest son had an incident at preschool—the first ever in his life—I realized that maybe he’s white-knuckling his little life, too, and that it might be time to write about what that means.
Rarely can we see the road we are on right now. It is covered with too many obstacles. There are some tracks in the road for us to follow, where others have gone before, but our journey is so unique that while we try to follow the tracks, the exact road that we are on is not one that has been traveled before by anyone we know.
In the six months since Jon’s diagnosis, we have often felt that we are in the middle of a blizzard: we are being pelted from all sides by obstacle after obstacle; there are moments of such extreme sadness and darkness and fear that they feel as though they will never end; the road has felt so slippery at the hands of a doctor’s office we don’t fully trust, but that we are allowing to care for Jon because we’ve been told this doctor is “the guy.” His office staff is another story entirely. All around us, life is blurry. We can’t focus on any one thing—my job, his job, our house, the kids, the book—none of that is anything we can give our “all” to, and yet we are expected to do this daily. But we can’t.
It’s because of the uncertainty of it all.
As I take hold of each new day, wondering what surprises it will bring—sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they’re not so good—I am doing the equivalent of gripping the steering wheel of my SUV, exposing the whites in my knuckles, and holding on for dear life, just hoping to get to the end of the day to fall into bed, sleep (sort of—we don’t really do that anymore), and wake up the next day and start again. I am desperately trying to “keep the windshield clean” so we can see—do we have the right meds? Can I make more hot chocolate so his stomach pain will ease? Do the kids both have clean clothes for school? Are my lessons planned? Can I leave the house long enough to have a meeting about the book? Can I paint this room or this set of cabinets since I can control that?
And on and on it goes.
I said to my therapist via text this morning, that I am scouring Scripture for some comfort. On repeat, I have a song by Lydia Laird called Hallelujah Even Here that says: “Hallelujah, when the storm is relentless; Hallelujah, when the battle is endless; In the middle of the in between; In the middle of the questioning; over every worry, every fear; Hallelujah, even here.”
When I can listen to this song and really absorb its message, I know that I must let go of the steering wheel, even if it’s just a little at a time, and allow God to take care of us. I know that we are clinging to each other with white knuckles right now, too. That clinging feels safer than trying to gain control in a world that isn’t mine to control. So, I will continue to grab hold of my people, squeeze them hard, and not let go.
Our road is snow-covered and slick right now. It is rarely a road that feels safe, it is often slippery, and the conditions can change on a dime, but this is a season. It will pass relatively soon, even when it feels endless, and I know, to quote the words of Dr. Catherine Trinkle as she spoke to my friend, a new widow, in her beautiful eulogy tribute to my friend's husband, who was my husband’s best friend for 25 years: “You’re going to be alright.”
We’re going to be alright, white knuckles and all.