I was a shaky driver nearly four decades ago and on a Sunday drive with my brother Ken, my dad and our dog Nipper, I lost control on a winding road outside Idaho Falls. The old Plymouth tumbled off a cliff, spiraling down an embankment to land on its top at the bottom, the precious cargo — us! — nearly undamaged but wildly shaken and amazed.

We were helped greatly, I suspect, by the fact that in my inexperience I wasn't going very fast when it happened. As soon as we collected ourselves, we scrambled away from the wreckage, fearful of fire, and clawed our way up the hill to flag down a passerby. Cell phones were far in the future at the time.

When help came, we were overjoyed. You can believe it when I say we did not care about the political or religious affiliations of our would-be rescuer or how credit for the big save was going to be allotted. We'd have been happy to see a martian at that point, as long as his vehicle worked and could get us the help we needed. My brother required stitches. We all wanted desperately to get off the cliff.

That long-ago experience is the closest I can come to explaining how little I care about political chest-pounding in America as we stand at the edge of a different but no less dangerous kind of cliff.

As Congress wrestles with what to do about scheduled tax increases and some massive spending cuts that are looming, I find I don't care about party affiliation or who gets the credit for a plan. What I long for is the ability to safely step back from the edge of the precipice and find a quiet place to collect myself and count my fingers and toes to see if they are intact.

The much-ballyhooed fiscal cliff on which America is perched offers some real opportunities for this nation's leaders to shock and amaze us with their leadership abilities, their clear-minded reasoning and their spirit of cooperation as they work together to craft a solution that strengthens the country and preserves a future for our kids.

But will they?

It's not an idle question, given that in the lead-in to the election, adherents of each party seemed more focused on doing whatever would cast those with opposing political views in a bad light than in actually solving any of this country's considerable problems. I get it. That's what happens in an election. But it's over now.

Regardless of how one feels about the election results — and people I love and respect and consider wise are all over the place on the issue — we have some time before the next go-round in the voting booth.

That's time to fix some broken parts, help our neighbors, have meaningful discussions about what kind of an America we all want and the different ways we could get there.

Reams have been written about various what-if scenarios. USA Today this week categorized the options as "hard" and "soft" landings, noting that "the whole world is waiting to see what they do." Businesses, it said, are waiting to hire. Investors here and abroad are wondering about global economic impact. Workers are wondering if they'll lose the jobs they have.

In a USA Today poll, two-thirds of Americans said lawmakers need to split their differences and reach some sort of compromise. One-third figure we're going to plunge down the embankment, because our leaders can't seem to cooperate across party lines.

Despite our competing visions, we all agree this has to be solved. I know for a fact that, when you're standing by an actual cliff, cooperation feels like new life.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.