We were warned not to go any further.
We had been driving through freezing rain on icy roads. Even though our progress had slowed to a crawl, the vehicle still swayed back and forth, gently applying the brakes was an adventure in drifting, and that was with winter tires.
Everything was shrouded in darkness, the sleet mesmerizing as it tunnelled past our vision against the windshield.
That's when we saw the flashing lights in the distance. An ambulance had slowly passed us about 20 minutes earlier and we feared the worst.
As we approached we saw a number of police cars and emergency vehicles.
A semi hauling pipe had gone into the ditch, the cargo shooting forward to completely destroy the cab. Everything was a mess of twisted metal and shattered glass. We prayed the driver was okay.
It was a sober and wearisome drive to the next town, to Valleyview. It had taken us 7 hours to travel 350 clicks.
While stopped for gas, we received warnings from the visibly shaken group of disparate drivers in the convenience store.
Don't go any further. The road ahead was worse. Big rigs jackknifed at the bottom of a deep valley road, an icy bridge spanning the frozen river wasn't helping. Emergency crews were overloaded and the road crews couldn't keep up with the rain. Simple, gentle, freezing rain.
We tried to find a room. Everything was booked.
In the restroom, my dear wife Clarice got to talking with another lady who was traveling alone. The woman had survived her car doing a 360 on the highway. Following an impulse, Clarice got her number and promised to keep in touch.
We finally found a motel room.
Whenever I travel for speaking or doing workshops, the first thing I do is check the hotel beds for unwanted guests. I peel back the sheets and inspect the mattress and boxspring seams, I check out the headboard, etc.
It didn't take long to decide we weren't sleeping in this motel bed.
We prepared to spend the night in the car, making a warm place for our little guy who was mercifully sleeping through all this when Clarice's phone rang. It was the lady from the gas station. She found a suite, lucked out on a sudden cancellation. It was 2 bedrooms, 3 beds and she was willing to share the price and the room.
She confided to Clarice that she was nervous about sharing a room with complete strangers. It turns out we weren't strangers at all.
Her name is Kathleen and she and I went to school together from 7th grade to graduation.
We caught up and it turns out that like Clarice she had been hit by a vehicle and she was also a teacher. Her boy had even briefly attended Clarice's school.
In the morning we travelled together, taking it slow on the still icy roads, but with daylight it was a much better drive.
Finally, our destination: Grande Prairie.
I missed half the day. I was facilitating workshops at a Youth Conference, Spirit Seekers.
I gave them the best of what I have. I hope it was enough.
I've been thinking about these youth all day. The drive home was sunny, beautiful and uneventful.
I was thinking about how at that age we warn them:
The road ahead is dangerous. Go no further.
Sometimes they ignore our warnings and forge ahead. Sometimes they make it through by the skin of their teeth. Sometimes, however, they veer off the path and crash.
If fortune smiles, we see them struggling, we see the wreck, and we work to help them back to the road.
Sometimes our help comes too late.
This is reality.
Our youth will face hatred, anger, sexism, racism, poverty, corruption, addiction, loss, heartache and sorrow. They will inherit the ills of attempted cultural genocide and be blamed for the fact that they are lost because of it by those who don't know how to count their own blessings.
But knowing all this, we still strive to give them the best of what we've got. We try to be examples by deed before word. We try to show them how beautiful and strong they really are, how filled with unlimited potential and power.
And some will see. Others will have trouble overcoming the conditioning of self-hatred, of the hatred of society.
For me, I long ago gave up attempting to motivate. I can do it, I can get them pumped up and excited, but how long does that last? An hour? A day? A week?
The adrenaline wears off and life looks much the same.
My goal is to provide tools. To give strategies. Strategies for survival on the long path ahead. To show them the transformative truth that they have complete control over their choices. And then I try to show them how to make those choices, how to centre themselves. I show them things they already know, that we all already know, but need reminding of in these chaotic and strange days.
Is it enough?
I hope so.
I hope these youth see how amazing they are. I hope they catch a glimpse of their incredible and limitless potential.
I hope they see that they are rising.
I hope they know this world belongs to them, and to their children's children.
The road looks dangerous and we see those who have fallen. But rest in faith, friendship and community. Start again, and again. Eventually the night ends and the light shines through. The road ahead becomes clear.
I am so grateful for all the organizers and volunteers and chaperones, etc who make these youth conferences possible. Spirit Seekers in Grande Prairie is one of the best out there, period.
I thank the youth for their rebelliousness, their energy, their confidence, their humility and humour. I thank them for making mistakes and learning.
And last but not least, I thank my beautiful cousin, Delaine, for her tireless determination and love for making this happen.
The road is always unknown, so listen to your heart. At times you have to slow down, or even stop. And sometimes you are good to go. Time, wisdom and quiet will let you know. Just try to live long enough to get there.
Aaron Paquette is a First Nations Metis artist, author and speaker. Based in Edmonton, Aberta, his first Young Adult Novel Lightfinder comes out May 14, 2014 through Kegedonce Press.
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