fogOver ten years ago Mike Yaconelli died when his pickup hit a light pole along I-5 while driving from Oregon to his home in Yreka CA.   Youth Specialties Update shared this from Mike’s wife on December 29, 2004, about one year after Mike’s death.

I found it in my files tonight while researching the subject of servant-leadership.  Karla’s parable seems appropriate as this old year passes.


A New Year’s Parable

Driving in fog is something I normally try to avoid, but this time it wasn’t possible. It was 4:30 in the morning, I had a very early plane to catch, and between me and the airport (normally just an hour away) was a mountain pass and a valley filled with dense winter fog. After 15 minutes of driving on the freeway at 25 mph, I realized I could be in danger of missing my flight, and my frustration began rise as I swore under my breath. Shortly after that, as visibility continued to decrease, I began to appreciate the fact that I could simply be in danger, period. The fog had turned to “pea soup.” I felt the nervousness rise in my throat. Two vehicles sped past me in the fast lane, their tail lights completely disappearing in a split second. “Idiots!” I said aloud.

I was alone. No tail lights, no other vehicles…only fog. Visibility dropped to a mere 10-15 feet in front of me. It certainly wasn’t safe to pull over, so I slowed to 10 miles per hour, crept along, and began to pray. At some point, I became aware that someone else was following behind me and wasn’t going to pass, no matter how slow I went. Their headlights, reflecting in my mirrors and bouncing off the cumulus surrounding me, were actually making my own visibility worse.

A full ten minutes later (which seems like an eternity when you really can’t see where you’re going), a set of taillights sprang up in front of me. I’d come up behind an SUV—one that had earlier passed me going far too fast. It had finally slowed to a crawl and was following a brightly lighted semi truck. The semi truck was illuminating the way for the SUV…and the lights from both vehicles began lighting the way for me. No longer the leader, it was amazing how much better I could see. At one point, buying into the illusion that the fog had actually lifted a bit, I switched to the left lane to pass both vehicles. I had a plane to catch. As I moved ahead of them, I discovered that without their lights I couldn’t see anywhere near well enough to travel faster than we were already going. The choice between seeing clearly or being the lead vehicle was a no-brainer; I fell back into place behind the truck and the SUV.

With the truck’s many lights now illuminating the way for three other drivers, I found myself wondering about the truck driver’s vision. I’d been in that fog with no one in front of me, and I KNEW how dense it was—it was nearly impossible to see the road! Yet the truck driver drove steadily, confidently, leading a small parade through unknown territory. With the increased visibility that the travelers in front of me offered, I exhaled. My grip on the steering wheel began to relax. I even lightened up about missing my flight and began making alternate plans in my head.

At last our little caravan drove out of the mist, and I sped off, anxious to get to the airport. I waved my thanks to the truck driver as I passed, and he flashed his lights at me in return. I actually did make my flight, in the nick of time.

The little 2-prop plane bumped its way above the clouds and burst into clear sky as the sun was about to rise. From above, the clouds looked angelic—like cotton candy. Looking down on the fog I’d just driven through, I remembered how I’d cursed it, resented it, feared it, and I realized I’d been so focused on where I was trying to go that I’d missed the magic of the moment I was in—the red-orange glow of head and tail lights; the misty, ethereal quality of the road I was on; the fact that for ten precarious minutes, I was leading the way, helping someone else to see; fellow travelers out in front of me—strangers who led me through the scariest part, then sent me on; appreciation for the fact that all of us together were more valiant than any of us alone; gratitude for the mystery driver who led the way as though he knew the route well enough to navigate it with his eyes closed.

The sun burst above the horizon in an explosion of color and light. A new day dawned. It felt like Christmas.

Happy New Year!

Karla Yaconelli