There is something gut-clenching, breath-arresting, and heart-stopping when black ice is experienced while driving. Often times, it is impossible to see that it’s there because it blends in with the asphalt or lies deceptively innocent beneath a dusting of powdery white flakes. It is also inconsistent, gathering in spots that may not be expected and is scattered around the road in this place and that – somewhat like the trail of a tornado, never really making sense on where it touches down and where it lifts. It just plants itself where it feels most comfortable. If you drive over a patch of black ice without needing to accelerate, stop, or turn, you may never even realize that it’s there because your car is in – and will remain in – motion in a specific direction at a specific speed. However, if you have to do any of those actions, it quickly becomes readily apparent that you are on a skating rink and your car forgot its blades.
That morning, when I came out to warm up the car, I slid a few steps while walking around my car to get in the driver’s seat. I made note of the possibility of ice on the streets and swore I would be cautious. After driving for about 20 minutes and without spying any spin-outs or slide-offs that indicate the devilish ice was lurking on the surfaces of roads, I eased the tension in my shoulders and exhaled the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding for however long I had been holding it.
I was talking with my daughter and it was literally just moments later, mid-sentence, that I hit my patch of black ice. It was on a crowded road and, for some reason, far ahead of me, a plethora of brake lights started blaring so I tapped my brake. I am assuming the car to my right did the same thing at the same moment because, as though we were in some sort of choreographed ballet, our cars both started sliding to the right uncontrollably.
In that moment, as I realized my car was possessed and out of control, a gazillion things happened all at once. My stomach clenched, as did my fists grasping the steering wheel maniacally as if strangling it would help the situation. My breath and words stopped, mid-syllable. My head filled with visions of automobile accidents – the most recent, most personally-affecting, and most gruesome one I’ve ever experienced (Kel’s and Garrett’s) being front and center of my mind. My eyes filled with tears. I wanted to scream. I began praying. I had a crystal clear thought amongst it all, “I have Kait in the car! Please! She’s too young to die!” I experienced a kaleidoscope of life-images all at once and then by brain went blank. And I felt my daughter’s terror.
Immediately, in a total panic, I took my foot from the brake, although my human instinct was to press it all the way to the floor and hold it locked in, as though I was standing straight on end, eyes wide, screaming for all I’m worth as I careened through the world. As soon as my foot raised, I inhaled in a choking gasp and held my breath again as the prayers and images crashed through me again. I pumped the brakes frantically, praying to all that was holy that somewhere beneath that dusting of snow there was solid black asphalt and that my tires would make contact with it and find tracking. It seemed to last forever, this panic-ridden fight for control of a moving pile of heavy metal and humans. I couldn’t look anywhere but straight ahead, as I willed my car to focus in the same direction.
As quickly as it started, it was over. I nearly cried. Every single muscle in my body was clenched and I felt nauseated from the dump of adrenaline in my system. I glanced over at my daughter to find her staring at me, eyes wide, face pale.
“Honey,” I said breathlessly, “When you start driving and find yourself sliding on ice, remember to pump the brakes.”
“I know, Momma,” she said smiling gently. “You tell me every time we hit ice.”
I giggled and continued on down the road, a little shaken, a little ill, and a lot more cautious – probably more annoyingly cautious than necessary.
What I realized in this experience that I’ve never noticed before was the utter need to keep my foot on that brake pedal and the desire to push it all the way to the floor. I wanted to stop and, to stop in a car, you have to use the brakes. But, on ice, the rules are changed. Something changes the circumstances, which makes what would ordinarily work no longer work.
I witnessed the battle in my brain. The part of me that was frozen as protection from the foe who could not see me if I held still. I was frozen, brake pedal to the floor, as we slid uncontrollably across the ice. And that side of my brain was screaming, “STOP! STOP! STOP! The brakes make you stop. Do NOT lift your foot from the brake or you will NEVER stop.”
Another side of me was running, looking for help. This part of me, while running and searching, was also trying to coach me to be calm and cool. This side of my brain was whispering, “You got this, Angie. You can do it. Keep on running. You can do it. You can outrun this danger.”
Another side of me was dizzy and fuzzy. This part of me was fainting away from the sheer terror of it all. Playing dead. It helped sometimes when we were cavepeople who had to figure out which tactic was going to save us with which death-bringer. This side of my brain was silent, asleep, falling over with the back of her hand to her forehead with a very girlish sigh.
And then, there was this part of me that was kicking the shit out of everything in my path. I was raving mad that I was losing control of the situation and I was facing certain death. This part of me was about ready to jump out of the erratically fishtailing vehicle and kick the tires. This was not anger. This was unadulterated fear. This side of my brain was yelling, “OHMYGOD!!!! WHAT THE #@^% ARE YOU DOING, ANGIE! GET A GRIP ON YOURSELF! $^#!# $#&!*^&.!!!” And although I bleeped the profanity, this side of my brain was not bleeped and it continued ranting on loudly.
Amongst all that, there was this glimmering light of hope. I sought it out, latched onto that and breathed it in. Love showed up and reminded me calmly, “Lift your foot from that brake, Angie. Lift your foot and trust.”
All that happened in less than a split second.
It wasn’t until this experience with black ice that I realized how much trust is involved when it comes to dealing with it. I had to go against eons of fear programming and look for the Light. I had to be willing to go against what my programs would have me do. I had to choose to listen to me first. I had to choose to release the lock-down and fight for control that I was in as fear coursed through my systems. I had to choose to surrender and trust.
There is much in life that is like black ice; dangers that are hidden, that lie in wait and strip away your sense of control. There are also situations that are right out there in the open, but still deceptively dangerous – like lakes that are iced over with a sheet of ice that cannot bear weight. Or ice storms that come out of nowhere and shut everything down.
While I’m speaking about life in terms of ice, these are metaphorical references for life in general… times where you have your sense of safety stripped away; make a choice that seemed safe in the beginning, but you discover it is unsafe once you’re in the middle of it; a relationship that knocks the daylights out of you, but you never saw it coming. There are so many other ways this can be applied, but the commonality is that, within all of them, fear will run the show if you let it.
And to get out “alive” in these situations, you have got to override lifetimes of programming to freeze, flee, faint, or fight and look for the Light of Love within you that says, “This is the way. This is the path for you.” And then, in trust, you must follow that impulse.