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February 9, 2004
We were almost there -- up one more hill on the lane leading to the retreat center and we'd be at the front door. It was late -- close to 10pm -- and we had been on the road for almost four hours. But the lights would be on and a fire lit, we knew, and there would be hot chocolate and cookies for the travelers. We'll have Compline at 10:05, I said, after you find your rooms. But just then the bus slowed to a stop, and began to slide backwards down the hill. Uh-oh. Ice.

The bus came to a stop against the guardrail; at least we were not in the river. The driver was good: he rocked us back and forth in just the right way, but we attained no purchase on the slick incline. Attained none, and would attain none, it soon became clear. Robin was the first one off the bus. It's really slick, she said.

I was the second one off, and fell down fairly quickly after my descent; Robin was right. It was treacherous. I slid gently downhill a few feet before coming to rest in the snow along the side of the road. So if you kept to the margin of the lane, where the snow was, you could get a little traction. Enough to make some progress up the hill.

And so the women began the climb. Women who walked with canes. Women wearing the wrong shoes. Old women and young women. Younger ones stationed themselves along the way and handed along the less sure-footed to one another, hand to hand. Very soon, headlights from the conference center's van appeared, and soon the transport was underway. When all the people were off the bus, it was time for the luggage, another hand-to-hand relay.

Is there anything women cannot do? I asked someone rhetorically. Nope, she said. Nothing. We can do anything. And that was exactly how we felt: capable, resourceful. Strong. Our misfortune was fun. It was an adventure.

So misfortune can be fun, in the end. In retrospect. If you come out of it all right. It gives you a fresh respect for your own powers. It forces you to think outside the box, and rewards you for it. You feel brave, competent. A survivor.

And if it does not? If your best effort, your bravest risk is not crowned with success? If you are injured, or see the injury of another, and are powerless to prevent it? Then your adventure goes suddenly quiet. Now there is no laughter. You walk carefully into the darkness in silence, one foot on snow and one foot on a sheet of ice, picking your way with dread. Each step fills your throat with fear, and it arcs through your body like an electrical current. Quickly the world becomes large and you become very small; quickly your former courage seems foolish bravado. Is there anything we can't do? What a stupid thing to say, you think now. You no longer tempt grim chance by asking such a question. What can you have been thinking?

Is there anything we can't do? Yes, there are some things. Many things. But there are some we can, even when we are afraid, even when our throats are filled with dread. The brave are not without fear. They are simply the ones who find a way to act despite their fear. But I'm afraid! a child inside us wails in terror. Maybe so, we say, taking the child's hand, but keep one foot in the snow and let's walk.
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