It wasn’t ten minutes later, as we carefully drove along an unfamiliar road in the soon-to-be-coming dusky dark, that I saw a deer by the side of the road and said, “There’s one; be careful.” We passed the deer without incident, both laughing at how we were just warned and then there a deer was.
A few miles more, and I saw her. She darted out quickly and in the time it took me to open my mouth and yell, “Watch out!” she’d already ran right into Tommy’s truck. The sickening sound of WHAM! against metal, and our cries of “Oh no!”
Tommy said, “I can’t go back. I just can’t.” The stricken look that formed his features into grief must have mirrored my own.
I said, “I know, Tommy. I understand.”
Yet, despite our words, he’d already slowed to pull to the side of the road. We both knew we couldn’t leave a suffering animal. We’d just lost our father and the thought of dealing with death of any kind caused our faces to fall into folds of worry and sick and sad. And if she was suffering, what could we do? How to help her? The Odyssey had barely begun and already we were ready to call it Done. It was all too much. Too much. Too much.
Tommy looked into his rearview and said, “Hey wait! She’s up! She’s running into the woods.”
“That means she’s probably okay. Oh I hope so. And Tommy,” I said, “even if she’s not, we can’t go searching for her in unfamiliar woods, especially with dark coming soon.”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. And we went on our way down that lonely darkening road. The night tainted, unfamiliar. Grieved. It felt as if Tommy and I were the only humans left in the world. Visions of the beautiful animal hurt in the woods pummeled my thoughts. I know Tommy was feeling that too.
We drove in a silent dark that became a deeper dark, nothing around except for a smattering of farm houses here and there far back from the road. Then, at last! There! Lights in the distance. We soon came to a gas-station and stopped to fill up. As Tommy went inside, I looked around, trying to gauge my bearings, feeling disoriented and exhausted. There were a few men standing around but they didn’t look approachable. Another woman filled her car, but she had an angry expression. I felt uncomfortable there, as if I were an interloper upon their space and place and time.
A young woman pulled up to fill her tank. Her friendly face calmed me, so I made my decision and walked up to her, “Excuse me,” I said, “But where are we?”
She laughed, and told me.
“Is there a hotel nearby?”
She laughed again, then said, “Not one you’d want to stay in, that’s for sure.”
At my stricken look her face softened. “Hey, look. You can go to Hardy. It’s a little town but it has a couple of decent hotels. And!” She smiled and said with mock excitement, “it has a Wal-mart and a McDonalds!”
“Sold!” I grinned at her, then said, “Thank you so very much.”
“No problem. Drive safely. There’s some construction on the way.”
We followed the woman's directions and soon Tommy and I were checked-in to a hotel. We set out to the McDonalds for salads and to Wal-mart for a few supplies. Our moods were lighter, our faces lit in relief. I told Tommy I wished I'd have thought to ask her name, for she didn't know what her kindness meant to me, and to my brother.
The next morning was bright and beautiful. Tommy and I prepared again for our Odyssey, our faces as bright and beautiful as the morning. “Off we go!, I cried, “into the wild blue yonder!” We laughed, speeding off to the next adventure.
I often think what if we’d have given up because of that evening we were so tired and sad and distraught? I think, what if we’d have consulted technology and sped our way to an interstate where everything is The Same, given up the discovery we had been so excited about—the old back roads using only our sense of direction and a paper map. I think what if we’d have said the trip was too hard, and we were too tired and disoriented and defeated. We’d have missed the Rest of the Story. We’d have never known the days ahead of that evening. We’d have slapped the face of the evenings before The Deer & Lost in the Dark incident, when everything was about that discovery.
Everything doesn’t have to be easy. Everything doesn’t always go our way, or the right way. Everything we do has ups and downs, has disappointments and successes. It’s when we decide to keep going, to let the dark times teach us to reach out to someone, and to find The Rest of The Story, that we live the life we were meant to live—one well-lived.
Will you give up? Or will you drive through the scary dark to a friendly face, right into the bright and beautiful to find The Rest of Your Story?