A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


The advice was the same from every reputable source: don’t travel. said it.  Transportation departments throughout the Midwest said it.  The web site for Madam Helga’s Horoscope and Auto Detailing  Everyone said don’t travel.

But Joe Jr. had to.  He really had no choice.  He and his family were here for his big sister AmyJo’s wedding (welcome to the family, Brock!) but they had to get back to school and work commitments on the other side of the country.  “Don’t travel” was not on their list of options.  The only real choice they had was which of three interstate routes to take.

So they picked the southern route (which seemed to have the fewest number of “don’t travels” associated with it) and loaded up their minivan with fuel, maps and Diet Dr Pepper.  A few minutes after AmyJo and Brock said “I do” Joe and Jen and their three little girls took off in an anxious attempt to beat the predicted winter storm across the country.

The ice storms caught up to them about the time they were driving through the Texas pan handle.  Joe slowed to 30 miles per hour – sometimes less – and pressed forward despite the icy buildup on I-40 and the dozens of vehicles that were slipping and sliding off the road.

“The good news is you’re in the middle of the lead story on the Weather Channel,” I told Jen via cell phone during the trip.  “The bad news is . . . well . . . you’re in the middle of the lead story on the Weather Channel.”

A little later I talked to Joe during a fuel stop in Oklahoma.  He sounded tired, frustrated by the driving conditions and concerned about the safety of his family.

“I don’t know what to do,” he confessed, his voice edged with white-knuckled tension.  “Should I hunker down at the next motel and wait it out? Or should I try to get through this?”

Thankfully computer technology allowed me to counsel him based on weather radar, road reports and . . . you know . . . Madam Helga.  They pushed ahead, mile by icy mile, until they stopped for the night.  Refreshed, they continued battling the elements through the next morning, and by noon they were cruising along at 65 miles per hour on the other side of the storm.

I’m sure you can imagine how relieved I was when they finally made it home safely.  As ice storms continued to blow across America’s heartland, leaving a trail of destruction, inconvenience and even death in their wake, I continued to count my familial blessings.  I shared my harrowing story with several folks at work, including Mike, who listened attentively and even shook his head and said “Oh my goodness” in all the right places.

“I know how you feel,” he said.  “That’s how I felt when my son was in Iraq.”

Suddenly I had new appreciation for what Mike had experienced during the year his son fulfilled his military duty in a war zone.  Only his son had no family with him.  And he was gone for a year.  And other people were trying to kill him.  And Mike couldn’t get on the phone and use the computer to guide him to safety.  Other than that, it was exactly the same.  Sort of.

OK, so maybe my experience was completely different from Mike’s.  But those two harrowing days did give me a little taste of what it must be like for the families of our fighting men and women – not to mention the families of our police officers and fire fighters – who must listen daily to frightening news reports while they wait and wonder and pray.

Which, come to think of it, seems like a good idea: prayer.  Now more than ever we need to pray for peace, in the world and in our communities, and to pray for the safety and well-being of those who fight in our behalf on both fronts.  But we also need to remember their loved ones back home, who have little choice but the waiting, the wondering and the praying.

With or without advice from Madam Helga.

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— © Joseph Walker

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