One of my favorite poems is William Stafford’s ‘Traveling Through the Dark.’ In it, he tells of hard decisions made on a dark road, where hesitation could have life or death implications. When I first read it in college, I remember being shocked at how difficult, how unclear, the decision to choose life can be. The drama Stafford created around a deer on a dark road has stayed with me.
My own rides in the dark have a very different form of drama, as I drive middle school girls to their church youth group every week. On the way there, I listen quietly as my daughter and her friends unwind. I get caught up on the latest crushes, the most recent lunch room fights, and which teachers have given the worst homework assignments that week. And on the way home… there is no word other than ‘giddy’ to describe their mood on the way home. They’ve been with friends, they’ve had cookies or cupcakes (or on one memorable evening, both), and they’re ready to laugh. They tell bad jokes and sing songs about cats and cannibals and describe the intricate plotting details of a science fiction screenplay one of the girls is working on. They plan Halloween costumes and belt out their favorite songs from ‘The Greatest Showman.’ It’s a drive filled with happiness. Their laughter spurs on my own, as I remember the jokes my friends and I used to make at our own youth group, the notes we used to swap about our own middle-school crushes. It’s almost impossible to keep from moving into full belly laughs once they start giggling. Something about the darkness around us frees us.
As I reflect on the emerging routine of my Wednesday night drives in the dark, I realize that my travels are more like Stafford’s poem than I initially thought. The drive isn’t long, and it’s not dangerous, but it’s full of decisions. How do I encourage them to make life-giving choices for themselves? How do I help them steer away from difficulties during the fifteen minutes I have with them? How do I get them to stop singing about cannibals? I’ve come to love these Wednesday nights; the drive is a moment of joy in the middle of what are often hectic and overwhelming weeks for me.
Stafford’s poem talks about the difficulties of weighing whose life is important. On my Wednesday night drives, there is no difficulty. All three of these girls and I are moving toward life.