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Author of: The Notes They Played - a lyrical collection of short stories & The Impossible - a what-if story of the triumph over fear

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Suspension

In keeping with our vow to take the kids outside of the United States every other summer, Hubby and I decided to make Vancouver this year's family vacation destination. It kind of felt like cheating to me, to be honest. I'd really had my heart set on Italy or Spain this time around. Canada is right next door. I've been to Canada at least a dozen times in my life (although always the East). Since I was raised in Upstate New York, we went to Niagara Falls a good bit. And, since I went to undergrad at Michigan State University, I always cut through Canada to get back and forth between my parents' house and college. Once, growing up, we attended the Caribbean festival Caribana in Toronto. So to me, Canada was really no big deal. I will stress again that I've never been to the West Coast. Boy, was I awestruck by the beauty of it all! I'm even thinking that Vancouver might be the perfect place to retire. Although, I am acutely aware, after having lived in both New York and Michigan, that you never really know a place until you've spent the winter there...

Once we made the decision to go to Vancouver, I went about finding fun, active things our family could do. Because, 3/4 of my kids NEVER STOP! EVER. They love to jump, climb, run, and skip, and they are quite adventurous. One of the things I was most looking forward to was visiting and walking across a suspension bridge. Vancouver is famous for them. The pictures you can pull up on Google are AMAZING! And, I'm a sucker for amazing pictures.

So, on Day 1, we visiting Lynn Canyon Park and planned to spend the entire day there. The hike was absolutely breathtaking. And indescribable, even for me, a writer. It's what I'd always imaged a rain forest to be; without the poisonous snakes and frogs, and deadly insects. Twenty steps from a parking lot, we were suddenly surrounded by trees so tall and so lush I forgot all about my fear that it's quite possible my imaginary grandkids will not see a real tree in their lifetimes.  Where we live the coyotes and deer are being evicted daily for yet another huge house being built on yet another endangered plot of land.

There were trees and tree stumps so big around that we guessed they had to be 100 years old. There were hills and valleys and cliffs and rocks and trees struck down by lightening. And hidden inside the park, along the trail we found a giant staircase, and a swimming hole with water so turquoise and clear we thought it was transported straight from our favorite beach in Honduras. We spotted waterfalls, lakes, bridges, and, of course, a suspension bridge.

In my head I'd planned this wonderful family experience where we'd take pictures and walk across the bridge together. We'd laugh and hold hands and it would be magical. But then we got to the bridge. My boys were hesitant. The eldest played it off as disinterest. The youngest said, straight up, he was afraid. But the girls; they thought it was magical and they hurried on. I called them back and took their hands and we started across. It was breathtaking - literally - I could not breathe. Because, the bridge MOVED. You could see the wires that were put in place to suspend it. And they looked quite questionable to my, admittedly, untrained eye. But, it actually swayed under our feet, confirming my suspicions. I looked up at the faces of the people coming toward me; because on this bridge that seemed to be miles long but only two people wide, people shuffled across from the two ends, going in both directions at the same time. No one else seemed alarmed. My girls tugged me forward, chomping at the bit. People stopped dead in the center, looking down and taking pictures. People were stopping to take pictures of loved ones and selfies. No one was in a hurry.

That's when I realized that, as someone who is slightly afraid of heights, and always wanting to be in control, this bridge meant certain panic (and possibly even death). And. I quickly backed up, squeezing my daughters' hands tightly. Back to the boys we went and I told Hubby, "You take them!" And, annoyingly, he didn't even bat an eye. He took their hands headed across the bridge, waiting patiently behind photo takers, looking down periodically, and even stopping at dead center like everyone else, with my precious girls in tow, to look down even more intently. All the while the bridge swayed and the people crowded and I kept wondering whether that bridge could snap at any second.

Then I wondered what kind of mother I was that I was be willing to send half of my children across a bridge that I felt was dangerous. Fearing for my own life, but not protecting theirs. And then I thought about what kind of message I was sending them. Like 99.9% of parents everywhere, I'm always telling them to conquer their fears, to challenge themselves, to sometimes force personal discomfort. To trust God always. Would they remember the time Mommy wouldn't even cross that suspension bridge in Vancouver?

So, I went across. Slowly. I would have much preferred to run to the very end. But, as I said, everyone else thought that suspension bridges were places for leisurely strolls and picture perfect selfies. I chatted with the lady behind me, about our separate plans to go white water rafting with our respective families. The funny thing is that the further out I got, the easier it became. The swaying remained irksome. But, I had to trust the bridge's stability, and God, to get me across. I had to. 

Still, I put a plan in place for just in case. If that bridge snapped, I would hold on for dear life, and I would pray. I would not scream. I would will myself not to. Screaming would use up energy. I needed every ounce of energy to hold on...Seriously. That was my plan. Hold on and pray!

I made it across, obviously. And then the dilemma became, "how do we get the boys to cross?" So, naturally, I put Hubby in charge of that. And, he walked casually back across, promised them ice cream was on the other side, and brought them over. We walked a bit further to the ice cream shop, had a treat, and then kept walking in hopes to get to the 30-foot swimming hole. And then we got to a map and realized the best route to the pool was back across the bridge. This time we all went together with me at the lead taking pictures, rushing them along in vain, and praying. I even took a selfie with Hubby and I, and one by myself. I even took one at dead center, of the waterfall down below. After all, this was my last hurrah.

We walked about halfway to the swimming hole and found what looked like a staircase made of tree roots. We walked down and made our way to some rocks and a small body of water. Hubby and I sat down together as the kids walked back and forth across the water, jumping rocks and having a blast. And then Hubby noticed one of our backpacks was missing. And my youngest son said he thought he'd left it on the table outside of the ice cream shop. I'm not proud of this, but I asked Hubby if he thought the boys were old enough to go together to retrieve it. And before he could answer, I said, "Never mind, I'll get it. I need to get my steps in anyway."

So, I walked the half mile to the suspension bridge, and crossed it, praying and reminding myself to hold on and not scream if the worst happened. I grabbed the bag and made my way back across the bridge and back to my family. And, I reflected on the fact that I'd accomplished something. I hadn't cured ALS, or helped anyone really. But I'd made a small personal victory, and hopefully been an example to my kids, or at least I'd not been a negative example to them. I'd taken on the bridge the way I hoped to take on most of my fears - trusting in God and praying all the way. Holding on tightly if the worst happened, but not stopping the prayer, even for a second.

I took the walk back to the family a bit slower than the walk to the backpack. For one, there was no anxiety about the bag being taken and forever lost to us. There were waters inside that I knew at least the littlest Efemini would be whining for it we didn't have it to give her.

But I was also a bit slower because I was alone in my thoughts. I have never been a person for adventure. I've always had my feet firmly planted on the ground. Three of my kids are nothing like me.  As a kid I was cautious, timid, frightened of almost everything unfamiliar. They are willing to take risks in ways I wouldn't have dreamed of. As an adult, I'm slightly less afraid only because they taught me that fear can be crippling. Watching them soar has put a spotlight on all the ways that I should be a little less firmly planted sometimes.

Suspension. I was willing to go across that bridge for my children. So, in what areas in my life was I unwilling, still, to cross the bridge? Heady question for a slow walk back to a rowdy crew. But I did find an answer - my writing.

Having my first book published bolstered my confidence. After years of rejection, I was ecstatic that my dream was finally being realized. But with the writing of my novel and the upkeep of blog entries, I went back into the doubting myself - do people really want to hear from me? Regularly? Do I really have anything to say? What if people are tired of hearing from me? What if no one cares? Am I just an annoyance? Are people laughing at me?

I stopped posting to my blog. I used summer as an excuse to not even think about it. I had all the kids home with me on most days. The girls had joined the swim team. The boys were playing soccer. The kids take up a lot of time and energy. I was too tired to write.

And then something devastating happened. Paradigm, the publisher of my book, went bankrupt. And my editor, regretfully, could no longer work with me. I had been comfortable in the knowledge that I would have at least two more books published with Paradigm. My novel was nearly complete. Paradigm's demise left me with so many unanswered questions about The Notes. Most of all, I wanted to know what would become of it. And, I still don't know that entirely yet.

And then there's the upcoming novel. I'd have to find another way to get it published. And self-publishing is not an option. Facing countless more years of the submission/rejection cycle terrified me. All of the unknowns weighed heavily on me.

I stopped writing for a time. And in my fear, I refused to cross that swaying, crowded, narrow, miles-long bridge in my life that suspended itself over rock-hard and jagged doubt, dismaying disappointment and fatal fear. That bridge that gave me a viable connection to the other side required courage. It required risk. And, just like the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, if I crossed it despite my fear, I'd be showing my kids, not just telling them, that you don't just do what comes easy. You do what is hard. Over and over again if you have to. And you pray. And you come up with a plan in case your bridge falls from under you. And you pray some more. But you do not waste your energy on screaming. You put all of your energy into work and prayer (and planning). And working some more.

And you take breaks too - to take on giant staircases, two giant steps at a time, to walk in the trees and jump the rocks and wade in cool water.



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