If you’re cruising along Interstate 280 and find yourself in the Toledo, Ohio, area, chances are you will come upon the Veteran’s Glass City Skyway Bridge. This modern six-lane miracle of engineering spans the Maumee River for more than 2.5 miles and sits 400 feet off the ground. Opened in June 2007, the bridge supplanted traffic from the Craig Memorial Bridge, which was one of the last movable bridges in the Interstate System.
Boats accumulated under the bridge until an operator signaled Interstate traffic to stop so he could lift the bridge, allow the boats through and then return traffic to normal. It took about 10 minutes, but was rather charming in its own way. But charming doesn’t go very far in the cell-phone, Bluetooth, iPad, twit (did I mean Twitter? No.) era so a higher, faster, better solution was constructed.
To make the new bridge high enough for boats to pass under without stopping traffic meant the bridge had to be longer and steeper. The approach then is rather similar to the first 200 feet of a roller coaster where the chain pulls you to the crest of the first hill and then … the ride begins.
As the bridge was built, the detour routed traffic down to where the giant columns were being poured and erected. They looked like concrete redwoods. Four-hundred feet sure is way up!
Frozen With Fear
So flash forward to December 2007; the bridge has been open about 6 months and I am on it with my family. We are all marveling as we take the ramp up and crest the peak of this gigantic beast and suddenly a big gust of wind whips down the Maumee and blew my car sideways into the next lane. It was incredibly icy. As we slid, fear washed over me like I had never experienced before. At first I shook it off because I have this attitude that a man should be able to talk himself out of any fear or panic. Then I looked down at my knuckles which were turning white with my deadlock grip on the wheel. To compensate, I tried to hide it from the wife and kids by singing loudly. I simply had to open my mouth somehow and I couldn’t scream so I had to … sing. The kids exchanged looks and laughed and in my panic, I yelled, “QUIET!”
Now they were really worried.
I was completely out of character, but they caught on quickly and complied. I began to control my breathing like they taught my wife to do when she was giving birth. I thought only of my mission--to get my family safely across to the other side of the bridge. Then I could deal with my yellow-bellied, chicken-hearted, man-child fears. I locked in on my task, got over the bridge and once back on solid ground, began light conversation again as if nothing happened. Ten minutes later, we arrived at our destination and I dropped the family at our host’s house and went right back to the bridge. I drove back and forth ten times to secure my manhood and not once did I experience the flop sweat of that one pass I had trembled through earlier.
Out Of Control
Now, I told you all that to tell you this--I positively, absolutely had no control over that moment. It came upon me like an ocean wave and I was absolutely immersed in immobilizing fear that I didn’t expect, couldn’t control, and could not talk myself out of. What’s the big deal you ask?
Well very simply do you have any idea how many people in my life have presented problems to me that I remedied with, “Oh just get over it!”?
From people with a fear of heights to folks who claim chemical dependency; friends who can’t get on elevators, go to funeral parlors, hospitals or other sentimental locations. I even know people that can’t break bad news to their parents or children because of the fear of their reaction. All of these people have said, “I just can’t do it!” And here’s my deep thinking and caring response.
“Oh, just get over it.”
Note to self: WHAT IF THEY CAN’T?
What if the paralysis they feel is beyond their control like my bridge freeze-up was beyond mine? What if their “can’t do it” is really a “can’t?”
The more I thought about it, the more empathetic I became.
As you begin this weekend, mull this idea over for me will you? Open your heart and mind to the notion that the person driving 5 miles an hour in front of you may be going that slowly because of their age or confusion. Maybe that guy you saw in the supermarket wearing a full face of make-up and dressed like a woman has something within that’s driving him beyond his control to appear that way. Maybe that old man cursing out those kids for walking across his lawn has only his wife’s flower beds to remember her by and can’t stand the thought of anything that disrespects her. Maybe the neighbor’s daughter that you hear about that never visits her mother has emotional scars from her childhood that prevent her from opening her heart to the risk of being hurt again.
Maybe we are all simply doing the best we can in the moment and the thing we are supposed to do, simply cannot be done. I’d never thought about it that way before until that day on the bridge. Maybe I can save you the trip.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.