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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

January 4, 2009

In a fog

The holidays are over and things are getting back to normal.

The 101 gatherings to attend have ended and the social calendar is clearing up. The kids are going back to school and getting back into a routine that does not include arguing about who gets to play on the Wii first thing in the morning. (Should it be Mario Kart racing? Dance Dance Revolution? NHL hockey?)

While they will undoubtedly remember the fun things they did over break — the people who came over, the movies, the sledding, the shopping at St. Vincent de Paul in Manitowoc, Wis. — for my husband and I, the chief memory of the 2009 Christmas season might be the weather.

Not the snow that fell days in a row right before Christmas, nor the freezing cold that followed, turning any snow that had melted into solid sheets of ice.

Not even the heavy rain that fell in the days after Christmas, causing rare December floods throughout the Chicago area, and the high winds and tornado watches that came with the wildly fluctuating temperatures.

For us, it was the fog that enveloped us as we tried to make the trip home from my parents’ house in Wisconsin.

The fog that surrounded their house was thick, but you could see several dozen feet through it. As we hit the road, hoping to be in time for Caroline’s afternoon basketball game, we hoped it would get thinner as we approached the interstate, a mile or two away from the lake.

No such luck. If anything, the fog along the interstate was thicker, with visibility limited to the hood of the minivan. Other drivers at the gas station near the entrance ramp reported that it was that bad for quite a ways — except where it was worse — and conditions were made more hazardous by people driving blind at 75 mph.

Knowing the history of multi-car pileups on Interstate 43 in Wisconsin, my husband opted for the country roads that parallel the interstate. That made it unlikely we’d make the basketball game (we didn’t), but increased our chances of making it home.

We didn’t turn back because the Chicago weather reports kept talking about the flooding, and we wanted to get home to make sure our own basement was dry.

So we pushed forward, watching headlights and traffic signs emerge out of the fog when we were only a few feet away from them. The trees at the roadside were nothing but indistinct shadows, a little darker than the pearly white that surrounded them, and each intersection was its own adventure.

That’s when it struck me: that’s what life is like. No matter how well you think you know the road ahead, you never know for sure what it will hold. No matter how well you think you know the people around you, their interior lives are a mystery to you. At the best of times, we go through life in a fog, seeing “through a glass darkly” (1 Cor 13:12, King James Version).

But, as Paul tells us, it is not for us to see clearly in this life. In this life, we need to move forward, counting on the eyes of faith.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].