So it got me thinking----did Steve and Dale serve the same purpose? If so, what was that purpose? And how did they fulfill it?
Steve and Dale absolutely served as mirrors for each Oliver and Shane respectively, prompting individual growth in important areas. Where Steve and Dale differed was in how they prompted that growth in their mirrors, and their roles in dividing, or uniting, Shane and Oliver in the process.
The mechanism by which Steve prompted growth was to antagonize Oliver by pushing every emotional and psychological trigger Oliver possessed---like an unrelenting squeak---beginning at the point at which Oliver began pursuing Shane.
Oliver's pursuit began with the purchase and construction of the porch swing. Remember it's three days later that Steve's card suddenly arrives, and only one day after that does Hazel mistake Oliver for Steve as he sits next to Shane on the swing in Truth Be Told. As Oliver begins to make steps towards Shane, Steve's opposition continues to intensify.
We've chronicled Steve's emotional and psychological onslaught from that point on, which seemed to truly come to a head in the place it began---the porch---in Higher Ground. Stakes at their highest, Steve's "direct hit" throws Oliver into an unprecedented and challenging season of growth. Confronted with his own "insanity," Oliver is ultimately forced to choose between continuing to wait on Shane or take action to bring her home, rewriting his personal history in the process to become "a better man."
Not only does Steve adopt a rather aggressive and confrontational approach with Oliver, he attempts to divide and conquer by physically keeping Shane and Oliver apart. Much to Steve's chagrin, however, Shane and Oliver had developed a connection that Steve couldn't overcome with such a superficial tactic, a connection we can credit Dale with helping establish.
Unlike Steve, Dale indirectly, and even unintentionally, spurred Shane on towards growth, even as early on as her introduction in From The Heart. Very much like Shane in some ways, Dale possessed additional traits---her shared faith, and propensity to pray---that eventually caused issues of faith and uncertainty regarding her relationship with Oliver to surface for Shane in a tangible way in Lost Without You.
Unbeknownst to Shane, she had been developing spiritual tools throughout the course of the canon, like the ability to hear God's "still small voice," which the bet in Lost Without You activated. With Dale's subtle guidance on the subject of prayer, Shane harnessed and gave assignment to these tools to save Oliver and Joe by praying herself. It was an act of faith that ultimately positioned Shane to meet Oliver in the hospital chapel, with even more lasting consequences for the events of Higher Ground.
Remember that Dale Travers literally means "valley to cross" and it was in this capacity, guiding Shane and Oliver out of their respective valleys, that Dale ultimately brought the pair together.
As discussed previously, Dale subtly guided Shane towards the spiritual growth, and act of faith, required to save Joe and Oliver on the mountain, simultaneously bringing Shane out of her spiritual valley to a place of "starting to believe." At the same time, Dale not only saw Oliver through his valley---the sixteen years during which they have been acquainted, and during which his spiritual growth remained stagnant---she pointed Oliver towards Shane when the time was right in a figurative sense, by asserting that Shane "made the call." A call that ultimately helped bring him out of the wilderness, saving his life in both a literal and figurative sense. Both reaching a new level of spiritual growth, Shane and Oliver were brought together in the hospital chapel, and tied together with the unbreakable thread of faith, and, dare I say it, love. And it was this deeper, unseen, bond that ultimately allowed them to withstand Steve's onslaught in Higher Ground.
From this perspective, Dale's actions overall present even more selfless, and rooted in love in its purest form, than I believe she has received credit for thus far. I know my respect level just boosted a few notches. Not only did she love Oliver, walking with him through the valley, she loved him enough to help "prepare Shane" for him in a sense, and point him towards her when the time was right, even though that meant she could never be with Oliver in the end. Heavy stuff right there.
In Observation Mode,