I was on my way with a new-to-me car, lightened by my purging of useless stuff, and driving down the highway through Baton Rouge. It was dark. That’s when I observed the light beams, a phenomenon I had not noticed since childhood.
I couldn’t have even been of school age when I was in the back seat, returning home with my folks from Thanksgiving at my grandparents, or some such event. The highway was illuminated by streetlights. As we drove under the lights, poles of light appeared to reach down to the car’s windshield and push the car onto the next light, as bargemen pole a raft down the river. It seems as though we were passing through a vast system that lovingly guided us and guaranteed our safety from the hazards of the road.
Even as young as I was, I understood that they were not poles of light and there were no bargemen mounted on the light posts. There was no vast, loving system guiding us down the highway. The phenomenon was caused by the reflection of light upon the curved glass of the windshield. I had this ordinary explanation at hand, although I was unable to elucidate the physics of it, as I am still unable to today, but the reality was just not that interesting. I preferred my fantasy. It suited me well as I whiled away the time on the long journey.
I tried to share my observation with my parents, but I must have described it poorly, or they lacked the imagination I had, because they couldn’t see it. It’s not that they passed it off as childish dreams. They just didn’t see it. Beams of light had no use to them beyond illuminating the road and might have well been invisible.
It didn’t bother me much that my parents failed to validate my vision. I didn’t need them to. It was enough that I saw it and I regarded myself as having “insider knowledge”.
I loved my conceit (by that I mean the expanded metaphor type of conceit, not the inflated pride kind, although I had that in abundance) and kept it at hand for years whenever I rode in the dark in the back seat. Later, when I heard in Sunday school about a loving God, I thought about the bargemen and their light poles. It seemed as though someone else had the same thought, not about light beams, but of life. There was someone up there at the head of a vast system of guardian angels who guaranteed our safety as we passed through life.
It’s a beautiful thought. Too bad it’s not true, at least not in the way we imagined it.
As a child of pre-school age, I did not realize that it was not the bargemen who keep me safe; it was my father, who struggled to keep his tired eyes open and the rubber side down. I took my father for granted, a sure sign that he was doing his job well, and ascribed all my good fortune and safety to an imagined being.
But now, I am doing my own driving, struggling to keep my own eyes open. I have to keep my own self safe. Having had so many suicide attempts and other near death experiences, it is obvious I have not done a great job of it, but yet I am still here. To what may I give the credit: some bargemen, a loving God, or chance? It may be that I am still nothing but an ignorant, imaginative child, dozing in the back seat, making up stuff to explain what I can’t explain.