It was during my high school years, and I was driving my 1963 VW bug down a back road known as Devil's Backbone. I imagine you might have grown up near a crooked road bearing a similar name—a two-lane road that should have been one. This particular Devil's backbone cut its twisting path through a marshland. If you hit its worst curves at more than 35 mph, you were begging to wind up in a swampy grave. Some said there was even quicksand in that marshland, but I'm pretty sure that was just embellishment meant to heighten the drama of local lore. But nobody needed to embellish the facts. Even without quicksand, Devil's Backbone was a desolate and dangerous strip of road ever ready to claim the lives of foolish speeders, drunken drivers, and suicidal teens.
Strange how life works sometimes. One quick, impulsive decision and I could have been a victim of Devil's Backbone.
I don't remember exactly what had set off my intense feelings of sadness and aloneness. I had them often—sometimes triggered by rejection by a girl, an argument with my dad, or a poor self-worth that plagued my teen years. During those times, a quote I'd heard in Lit. class often overwhelmed my thoughts: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation." Those words penned by Henry David Thoreau so many years ago described my mixed-up feelings excruciatingly well.
With despairing—and suicidal—thoughts clouding my thinking, I gripped the faded green steering wheel on my VW and sped up. But just before I went into the curve, I braked hard and entered the curve at around 45. The car whipped right, and left, and then slowed to crawl. I breathed heavily as my heart rate slowed to normal. I wove slowly through the rest of the curves until I came out of Devil's Backbone and onto a straightaway.
I'm honestly not exactly sure why I slowed down. I like to think, even before I found Christ, something had tugged at my soul and gave me a faint glimmer of hope that life might somehow get better tomorrow, or maybe the next day.
"The only thing that will keep you from going under is hope," says Ray Johnston in The Hope Quotient. "Hope makes you buoyant. Hope liberates. Hope motivates. Hope initiates. Hope activates. That's why hope is so important."
In my case, Ray Johnston was absolutely right. In the weeks following that experience on Devil's Backbone, hope in something I couldn't quite grasp at the time pushed me forward and made me believe that my life mattered. That there really was something better for my future.