Last week, as I made the hour drive down to visit my parents, the giant overhead road warning sign flashed “Vehicle Incident Ahead. Expect Delays.”
In true compassionate fashion my first thought was for my gas tank needling its way towards empty. It was almost -30 C which wouldn’t allow for turning the car off for long periods should I get stuck in a wait line. I had just decided to turn back and fuel up when the line-up found me just before the bridge. Or more accurately The Bridge.
If you’re not used to driving this route, The Bridge can be a heart stopping affair. Traversing a wide river, The Bridge is not only long, but loud. Its metal bridge deck reverberates beneath your tires and snags your treads (especially on new snow tires) making steering a wonky affair.
The approach to the bridge can be just as pulse rising. Steep hills, embankments, curves and loads of heavy truck traffic accompany you to the lip of the bridge. Years ago my heart would be pounding in my ears as I approached first the hill and then the dreaded bridge itself. Sometimes I even cried a little bit. Not a lot. Just a little. A stifled sob really. Even in my terror-or because of it-I knew this was not a time for risking vision-clouding tears.
I smile about that now. Since our move I make the drive so often, I don’t even think about it. My pulse no longer pounds. Instead I go into that scary auto pilot place where you drift around on your thoughts and then come back and wonder where you are. Often I have to stop and think, have I crossed The Bridge yet?
Whatever the vehicle incident was, it had stopped traffic just before the bridge and reduced it to single lane. I can’t imagine a worse place to have an accident than on The Bridge. But it happens. As our line moved forward, I was relieved to see a work truck parked on the bridge but no sign of an accident. Maybe it was just some routine bridge repair or perhaps the accident had taken place a bit further up.
As I came abreast of the work truck my knees went liquid. A huge section of bridge railing was missing. There was nothing but gaping space and open air between the bridge deck and the chasm below.
I stopped thinking about my gas tank.
As our line of traffic left the bridge and headed up the hill on the other side, it soon became apparent the sight had stunned us all. Normally vehicles thunder off the bridge and jockey for position in the passing lane before heading into the steepest ascent. Instead we all crawled off the bridge and continued to follow each other single file up the hill like shocked sheep, no one trying to pass, no one going faster than 50 km an hour. All our thoughts were with the person and/or people in the vehicle that had plunged off the bridge into the icy river below.
I wondered if it was a suicide. Christmas isn’t always so merry and bright. Truth told, it’s a difficult time of year for a lot of people. It can be a Santa-sized bundle of joy or it can just as easily roll itself up into one big emotional blob of stress or sadness. Or both.
There was a time I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to end their own life. It is such a precious thing. The last ten years-and the last two in particular-have given me more empathy. I understand how things can mount one upon another until you just want the whole thing to go away. It’s not that you don’t want to live anymore, it’s just that you don’t want to live the way you are, but you can’t see an out.
It can be hard to stand in that space and be patient; harder yet to fight your way through it and come out the other side. There’s a line from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that goes…Everything will be okay in the end and if it isn’t okay than it isn’t the end.
I like that.
Sometimes you just have to keep trudging forward until the path clears again. And it will clear again. It will be okay again. It might be a different kind of okay, but it will still be okay. In the meantime, know you’re not alone. I firmly believe we are all a mess. A beautiful mess, but a mess all the same. Furthermore, I believe it’s okay to be a mess. It’s what makes us human. It’s when we think we’re not supposed to be a mess that we lose our minds. You’re not alone in all this even if it feels like you are. So please don’t drive off bridges.
When I got home I checked the local news feed, while filled with dread. To my great amazement and relief, I discovered I was wrong on all counts. A vehicle had indeed hit the rail and knocked it into the brink below, but it was simply an accident. And somehow no one was injured and the vehicle remained firmly planted on the bridge deck.
It’s a Christmas Miracle.