I met my family in Columbia for dinner tonight, and I left the restaurant around 8:30. As I pulled onto I-26, the last rays of sunset illuminated the sky just enough for me to see an ominous cloud sprawled across the horizon. As the sky darkened and I started the long drive back to Greenville, I realized the drive was going to be intense.
I couldn’t gauge how far away the storm was. The lightning lit up the cloud almost constantly, growing stronger and stronger as I continued my drive. Traffic was scarce, and once Columbia was behind me, the road was dark and empty. The massive cloud was always just ahead of me, and eventually, I realized I was paying more attention to the lightning–so powerful and mesmerizing–than to the road. With the trees rising on either side of the interstate, and with little else to distract me, I could only focus on the impending danger ahead. The white lines became a secondary concern to the brilliant streaks of light. For 50 miles, I could only watch the sky, wondering when the rain would come.
As the split to I-385 approached, a few raindrops began to hit my windshield. I turned on my windshield wipers on low speed as the road curved left, and suddenly, the storm hit with little other warning. The rain was so heavy that my wipers, now set on their highest speed, did little to combat the water. The reflectors and white lines of the interstate disappeared under the flowing rain. And I leaned forward as far as I could, desperately praying that I didn’t run off the road and telling myself not to cry because, really, is a raging thunderstorm in the dark when I’m alone really the time to lose it? I also knew that there was no point in pulling over to wait out the storm; I knew I would just have to drive right back into it if I did attempt to wait it out.
Sometimes, the storm is so big and terrifying that I spend ages watching it approach, knowing that the only way out is through, and praying that I reach home on the other side. And when the storm passes, I watch it fade away in the rearview mirror, and I still see the lightning in my peripheral vision; I try to convince my hands to stop gripping the steering wheel so tightly and my heart to stop beating so quickly, and I search the dark, empty road for light or some other sign of civilization to convince myself that the worst has passed. And when I arrive at my destination, I breathe a sigh of relief and I pray that some time will pass before I have to face another challenge like that. I tell myself that the next drive will be better, and I try to embrace hope instead of fear. And I also recognize that the lightning, with all its power and terror, was actually beautiful.