There are defining moments in this earthly life that we all share—we all fall in love; we all get our hearts broken; we all lose people; we all face times that bankrupt us emotionally, physically and spiritually.
And those are the times when we know, really know, who we are and what we’re about. I’ve had those moments. Have them. I’m having one right now and I’m choosing not to write about it here because it’s too much. It’s more than too much.
No, the moment I want to tell you about is not so heavy as all that. It’s subtler in its lesson, more fleeting or delicate, but it means a lot to me.
This moment came quickly; in a rush, like the way it must feel when someone plays the ‘bucket of water rigged to a door’ on you.
This moment was the time I almost died on a bridge.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. . .
When I was twenty-four, freshly out of graduate school, I married Alan, who was twenty-nine and already a productive member of society. A homeowner, no less. We were rocking the new tax bracket. Eating out constantly. Thumbing our noses at our friends who had to stay home with their babies.
We wanted to travel before having children. We wanted to have our ducks in a row. Our wanderlust tamped down. Our bank account padded. I wanted to get ahead on my reading. He wanted to see every Science Fiction movie ever made. We wanted to be smart about what we knew would be the game-changer. We had this, we thought.
So, five years after our vows, we thought we were ready to be perfect parents. We created life. Then, when I was a few months along in my pregnancy, we decided to take one more pre-baby trip.
And that’s how I ended up crawling on my hands and knees down the walkway of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge in New Mexico, yelling, “Don’t touch me,” to Alan. I felt like the bucket of water had just been dumped on my head.
Here’s what happened. I walked out onto that insanely high bridge, feeling like myself, the girl who’d climbed a lot of high places and never felt fear. I laughed and joked with Alan about the ‘fraidy cats who couldn’t make it. The laughing kept me from noticing the 650-foot drop under my own feet.
When we made it to the middle and leaned over the railing to get that juiced feeling in our stomachs, it hit me. It. Hit me.
I was no longer just me. I was me and other. And I was precariously close to a drop that was not survivable. My nervous system screamed from vertigo and I pitched forward and then back, landing on my backside. Panting to keep from vomiting, I really thought I was having a heart attack. Alan tried to help me up but I swatted his hand away.
I had to get my baby off the death trap. Keeping low and not making any sudden moves, I rolled to my hands and knees and began the completely ridiculous crawl back to solid ground. I crawled because my feet felt huge and uncoordinated. I crawled because I wouldn’t allow anyone to help me. I was a sweaty mess. The sweaty mess that made people stare and children cry.
I’d never before had a moment where I was, quite literally, prostrate before my Maker. I’ve had many since then but your first tends to stick with you. And this moment was unprecedented in its desperation.
Because of the fear I felt on that bridge—the fear of being responsible for another soul—I made vows with God that I have kept. I knew that Alan and I could only raise this baby with God’s tender mercy and grace filling every hole and weakness we had. Sweaty messes cannot raise children alone.
If you’re a writer, you might talk about the symbolism of the bridge. Your English teachers might high-center on the metaphorical meaning of my not being able to “cross it.” They might connect the dots and decide that my fear was an existential cry for all of humanity. Or that by crawling, I was celebrating a rebirth. Ah . . . hogwash.
Here’s what I learned on that scary bridge in New Mexico—we are wrong if we think that by learning to juggle life well, by being smart about things, we are protected from troubles and hard times. We’re deluded if we think we can do this thing alone, by the skin of our own teeth and the firings of our own neurons. Every day we must die to self and live in Him.
You’re going to find yourselves on a lot of impossibly high bridges. You’re all just getting started and you will have moments when you feel shaky and unworthy and afraid.
But He promised to make your feet as steady as a deer’s. Have you watched a deer run over rocks and water and fences? If you trust that, you can walk back to solid ground every time.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.
Psalm 18:33-34, 36