There are two bridges — the old, lower bridge, and the new/current one that is high, high, high above the river. Portomarin, Spain
I don’t often include images here, but this one make for a powerful visual concerning walking through fear and holding off utter panic. These are the two bridges into Portomarin, Spain — a part of the Via Frances Camino de Santiago de Compostella. Notice the older, probably original bridge. That’s not the one I walked across. As I understand it, the original town was located in nice green lowland near the river. It was destroyed by a flood and/or mudslide. The town was rebuilt on the high ground — they even deconstructed and reconstructed the church in the middle of town!
But, alas, when one walks into Portomarin, it is on a walkway alongside the traffic lanes on that high bridge. The water swirls below. There are railings… railings that laughed as I doggedly focussed in front of myself, trying not to think of tripping and falling into traffic or the river while carrying my backpack. The walkway is slightly elevated, just in case I wasn’t high enough already to cause panic to push up so forcefully that I had to practice a breathing meditation to keep it in check.
Walking over Napoleon’s Pass and trying not to lose my footing on the descent into Roncesvalles was nothing – nothing – compared to this flat walk. I knew I might be the last on to descend, but I could take it slowly and hope not to turn an ankle. All would be well. But, successfully crossing this bridge — that was triumph over fear. Susan started ahead of me. No fear of heights for that woman, and even she admitted to feeling a bit dizzy when she looked over the edge at the swirling water. For the first half, I could focus on her backside. But, she got across and headed up the stairs to town while I was still in the middle of the bridge. Breathe! Breathe. Don’t look down. Don’t think what could go wrong. One step. One more step. It’s not slick. Your feet are steady. One more step. You can panic when you get to the other side! Several more steps. Will this never end? Should I climb down to the roadway? A few more steps.
At last, it is over. I feel safe. I feel proud and triumphant. I DID IT!
There are many times in life that I need to call on this memory, especially when I’m unsure of where I am going and if I can do it. (Whatever “it” might be.) If I focus on believing, if I tell myself that I can panic later if I need to, if I remember that I only have to take one step at a time, then I can move on down the road. Maybe I can see Jesus walking in front of me and focus on his backside, his stride to get me moving and keep me going. I can go places and discover all manner of things that fear would try to keep me away from.
Courage — not being unafraid, but crossing the bridge anyway.
I hate falling. It scares me. I hate that loss of control, the moment of panic when my mind races worrying about what will hurt, what will be broken, where the bruises will be.
I hate falling: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. But, I find the most vivid descriptions of Why in the physical form.
I’ve barely been out of the house for 2 days now. There was ice and snow. Not a lot by many standards, but enough to make walking tricky and at times treacherous on our iced over driveway. I’ve fallen on ice a few times, and they stand out vividly in my memory: once, wearing ski boots at a ski resort in Boone NC and another on the St. John’s campus in New York. Both proved painful, and extremely unpleasant. Neither resulted in anything being broken. I’m not sure about bruises. But, I remember, in my gut the sensation of falling and the pain upon hitting the ground.
My balance is not as good as I would like. I can recount stepping through the ceiling in the attic (a fall stopped by the ceiling joists) which resulted in bruising from the back of my knee halfway up my butt. Or two falls on the Camino. Or falling and cracking a rib running to get out of the rain on campus; falling in the Chili’s parking lot in pouring rain causing a rotator cuff tear.
And there is the grandaddy of all falls in my memory — falling off of the front porch (four steps high, no railing) into a pyracantha bush. I must have been 5 or 6 at the time. To this day, I am very timid about leaning out or jumping ditches or anything where I might fall.
Get the picture? We haven’t even gotten to mental, emotional or spiritual falls… but, let’s just say I’ve had a few. Some of them, I am only now beginning to understand as falls. I’ve miss opportunities because of this fear of falling. There are times I simply cannot or will not let go (and let God) because I am so terrified of falling. Even in battling depression, it seemed impossible to let go and fall to the bottom, trusting that there was indeed a bottom to stop the fall.
Funny thing is that when I do let go, when I do allow myself to risk falling, I don’t always fall. And, so far, I’ve been able to get up again when I have fallen. But, still, it holds me back. What if I don’t bounce back? What if I lose it all? What if I lose something? What if I speak the truth and you never talk to me again? Or you laugh at me? Or write me off and pretend I don’t exist? What if I sell everything to buy the field where the precious pearl is buried, and then discover I hate pearls? Butch and Sundance had to jump and fall into the river to escape. Me? I would probably have died on the cliff out of fear of the fall into the river.
I really hate falling. And yet, it seems that to move forward, to growth, to love, I’m going to have to risk falling, even if I am scared.
“Life is difficult” (Scott Peck, opening sentence of “The Road Less Travelled”). Right now I wouldn’t be so polite. The human condition sucks. We are cracked pots that leak. We are fragile — we not only inadvertantly hurt others, but we take offense and are frightened of others. We spend inordinate amounts of emotional and psychic energy protecting ourselves from the possibility of being hurt (and in the process inflict damage on others). It seems the very act of trying to hold the pot together and stop the leaks makes them that much worse.
Right now, I am falling back on Jesus — God’s Love Incarnate. An actual human being who walked this earth an showed a way of living openly so that the cracks in the human pot don’t happen. A whole and complete human person in communion with God – completely. A person who was so completely open to God that he was willing to go as far as required to show us the way — even if we tried to kill him for daring to live in this relationship with God.
Sounds like I might be running from the issues. I don’t think so. It’s that the fear and anger have grabbed me recently in such a way that make me long for the wholeness. I don’t like it a bit when someone behaves erratically and scares me. I don’t like what I find in myself when I want to swing back and knock that other person on his butt. I hate being scared. I am scared and angry when another person is totally unpredictable. I cry. I can’t speak coherent sentences. And then the tears come again and I’m really upset because I can’t make them stop and my mascara runs and my eyes are red, and when that happens I can’t even hide my distress from others. It’s frustrating and embarrassing. It’s a complete loss of control. It let’s someone see how badly I hurt.