While I'm certainly no Charles Dickens and definitely not Ebenezer Scrooge, I do have a little "Christmas Carol" tale of my own to tell. Like Mr. Scrooge, I've been influenced in interesting ways by someone or something unseen, or maybe imagined. She could have been a ghost, or maybe a time traveler. I’m not sure.
I’ve done things, odd things, for no particular reason that I could fathom that turned out to be exactly the right thing to do under the circumstances. But I couldn’t possibly explain what made me do what I did. It’s a sort of sixth sense, I think. We all have that sixth sense, but we don’t pay much attention to it any more. Those little voices are too easily drowned out by the noise and babble of everyday life -- like trying to pick a conversation out of a weak CB signal.
One cold winter night back in early 1978, before I had earned a license to drive tractor-trailers, I was driving a straight truck on remote stretch of highway in northern Ontario. That night, those voices yelled at me to stop the truck. I did, and a bloody good thing, too. I mightn’t be here otherwise.
The air was cold and crisp, perhaps 25 degrees below zero, with ice crystals twinkling in the moonlight. There was an inch of fresh powdery snow on the ground, and not a single tire track on the road. It had been 10 or 15 minutes since I had seen any sign of civilization. According to the map there was nothing ahead of me for at least another 10 miles. Then, out of the darkness my headlights picked up a woman walking along the shoulder of the road. She was dressed in a pink ski jacket, black stirrup pants and a fuzzy hat, all of a 1960s vintage -- the kind of outfit that ski bunnies wear in old Cary Grant movies.
In one of those flashes of insight, I concluded that her car had likely broken down somewhere further up the road, and it struck me that she had a long walk ahead of her to get to the next town. Why else might someone be out walking on a dark road in the dead of winter 10 miles from the nearest town? Why, indeed.
There were two of us in the truck that night -- me and a helper. As we passed the woman, both of us experienced the same reaction at the same time: the hair on the back of our necks stood straight up and we both got some serious chills down the length of our spines. Regardless, we decided to stop the truck, turn around and offer her a lift back to town. We were in a 22-ft straight truck, so after a moment or two -- and a 17-point U-turn -- we were headed south again.
When we returned to the point where we’d first noticed the woman, there wasn’t a sign of her. Not even her footprints in the fresh-fallen snow. Nothing. As we paused for a closer look, traveling at no more than 10 mph, the dashboard erupted in a flash and a cloud of smoke. It sizzled and spat for a moment, then the engine quit and all the lights went out. We’d experienced some sort of electrical failure, which shut down the engine, taking with it the power steering and power brakes. Reefing on the steering wheel, I managed to get the truck off to the side of the road to extinguish the fire and assess the damage.
It was nothing serious, as it turned out, just a short in the main bus from the battery to the electrical distribution panel. However, and here’s the freaky part, had I continued traveling north on the highway from the point where my partner and I had seen the woman, I’d have been cresting the top of a tricky little hill, which could have been disastrous had the engine quit, forcing me to travel the grade with no brakes, no steering, and no headlights.
A similar situation occurred about five years before I stopped driving. Traveling on I-90 between Buffalo, N.Y. and Erie, Pa., I’d run into a series of snow squalls blowing down from the Lake Erie. That stretch of road is notorious for snow streamers and whiteouts. After the first wall of snow, I cut the speed way back and kept a close eye on the traffic in front of me, striving to maintain a safe distance behind anyone who might stop in front of me inside the next squall zone.
The next two or three squalls were mild and short lived, with a visibility extending about 300 to 400 yards, and only lasting about two miles. The squall after that was different.
I was driving at about 20 to 30 mph in the right lane because snow had drifted onto the pavement in the left lane, when my world turned solid white. Prior to driving into the squall, I had seen nothing ahead of me for more than a mile in either lane when for no particular reason I yanked the wheel hard to the left, swerving into the next lane. I missed, by a matter of feet, a car that had stopped in the right lane amidst the dense blowing snow.
I certainly hadn’t seen the car, yet something more than chance told me to change lanes right away. I followed the impulse and avoided a nasty collision. How or why it happened I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you, today, I’m much more inclined to follow my instincts. I trust those voices in my head, but I still don’t know where they come from.
Those voices tell me when to speak up and when to shut up, who to talk to and who to avoid. And most of all, they seem to sense when I’m on the right track and when I’m not. I don’t hear actual voices of course. It’s more of a feeling in the pit of my stomach or a sudden impulse to do one thing when I might be naturally inclined to do another. You’ve likely heard those voices too: try trusting them. Let them be your muse and learn to follow your heart instead of your head. But you’ll have to listen carefully; life in modern times has made the voices difficult to hear.