I’m no longer afraid of the Ravenel Bridge

I’ve always been afraid of being trapped in a car under water. I’m not sure when I developed this phobia, but it probably began when I was a little girl going on adventures with my dad, brother, and uncles. We were driving out in the country in Anson County, NC.  Deep in the woods, we began driving driving over a swamp.  But we weren’t driving on a DOT-constructed bridge, we were on a man-made, rickety one lane bridge that looked like it was simply some  2×4’s nailed together. I was beyond scared.

I was terrified.

And I remember in elementary school driving on the 18 mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and hating every minute of it.   There was water on every side!

To this day, I don’t like swamps or bridges.  Driving over a large bridge over water leaves me shaking like a leaf.   Just ask my husband.

I don’t think my fear of driving over large bridges is entirely irrational. Because you know, sometimes bridges collapse, and cars fall into water.  People die.  In 2007, the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota suddenly collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145.  Cars plunged over 100 feet into the river below.  So this really happens.

In 2009, my family and I took a trip to Charleston, SC to see my husband’s sister. Charleston has a large bridge over the wide Cooper River.  The old bridge, the Grace Memorial Bridge, was two lane and very narrow.  I hated driving on it.  In 2005, the Grace bridge was replaced by the large, beautiful, imposing, awe-inspiring Ravenel Bridge, connecting Mount Pleasant to Charleston.  The eight lane Ravenel Bridge is the third longest among cable-stayed bridges in the Western Hemisphere.

We stayed at a Hampton Inn on the Mount Pleasant side of the Ravenel. The hotel was at the base of the bridge and the Ravenel has a bicycle-pedestrian path so you can walk over the bridge. As a family, we made the long walk to the top. I was fine because I was not in a car.  I am not afraid of heights.

Later that day, Hannah and I went out shopping. I can’t remember where, but knowing me, probably to a scrapbook store. On the way back, I made a wrong turn. And instead of returning to the safety of our hotel room, I found myself in a lane that was heading over the Ravenel bridge.

In Hannah’s words…”We were driving and all of a sudden, we were in the wrong lane and were going over the bridge. The BIG, long, very far bridge. It was NOT good, and NOT where we needed to be. Mom began to freak out, and of course, I began to freak out…”

Yes, I did indeed freak out.  Oh if you had been a fly in the car with us!  Poor Hannah was so traumatized because of my behavior, and I was in no position to comfort her.  I needed comfort! We made it safely to the other side, but what was so horrible was that in order to return to the hotel, we had to turn around and drive over the bridge, again!

Sweet Jesus.

In Hannah’s words…“How were we going to get back? You can’t u-turn on a bridge! I was quite distressed, but once we reached the other side, Mom turned us around and we immediately went back over.”

So I did it.  I exited off the bridge, turned around the van, and bravely drove back to the safety of the hotel.

I don’t EVER want to drive over that bridge again, but now I know that I can do it.

Sometimes we are able to avoid the things that scare us. We draw a safe box around our lives and we refuse to take risks. In the end, we are the ones who lose out. Our own fear that we think is protecting us from danger is actually keeping us from truly living.

What is truly living?

Living is following that dream in your heart that terrifies you.
It is quitting your day job so you can start the business you always wanted to start.
It is stepping out and speaking in public when it terrifies you.
Living is confronting someone when you know it will help your relationship to improve.
Living is refusing to give up when all of the cards are stacked against you.

In my case, I probably wouldn’t have driven over the Ravenel on my own accord. But God gave me a little push and gave me no choice. And through that wild and crazy and terrifying experience, I moved the boundaries of my safe box a little further out. I grew. And I lived.

I’m reminded of the Prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10:

“And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying,
Oh that Thou would bless me indeed,
and enlarge my coast,
and that Thine hand might be with me,
and that Thou would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!
And God granted him that which he requested.”

Jabez prayed that God would expand his territory.

When we do the things that terrify us, even mistakenly, we enlarge our territory and expand our list of experiences.

Hannah and I can laugh about this experience now. On a recent trip to New Bern, which has lots of large bridges over rivers, I jokingly asked her if she wanted to drive over some bridges. She replied with a firm, “NO.” When I kept joking about it, she looked at me in all seriousness and said, “DON’T PUSH IT, MOM.”

I shut up.

If Hannah ever needs therapy due to her traumatizing Ravenel Bridge experience, I have promised to pay for it. Who knows, I might need it, too!

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