It’s 5:30am and I’m happy to be writing, because I’m saddened by the fact that it’s been four months since I wrote. I call myself a writer. I’m not writing. I’m sensing a problem here.
When you see train tracks, what comes to mind?
I first think about the movie, Stand By Me, a classic from the 80’s.
I always picture this scene above when the boys are literally running for their lives over a long bridge as a train is plowing its way through. Before this though, Vern Tessio, the short fat kid of the group played by Jerry O’Connel, is paralyzed in the middle of the tracks, terrified of falling. When he gets halfway, he begins to crawl his way over each track, thinking this is the safest option for himself until …
The boys start running for their lives, forcing Vern to his feet pushing him, screaming at him to run, to go, go, go. Even at his fastest, he is the slowest, and the train is inching closer and closer to him, threatening to swallow him up. Eventually he gets close enough to level ground and jumps off the tracks, sending him tumbling through a ditch and rubble, as the boys run to his aid, making sure he didn’t just free-fall to his death.
I love that scene because it somewhat describes many scenes in our lives. There will come a point where you’ll have to cross a bridge; you’ll have to step out onto the scary tracks and move forward, but so many times, we become crippled in our fear that we just stop in the middle of the tracks. I do this time and time again, before I find myself crawling along, pretending progress is being made. Thinking, “Okay, this is a safe, good pace. I can do this. One tiny step at a time.”
Or was it? You’re on tracks, aren’t you? Tracks do have a tendency to produce trains…
What I’m trying to say is, we are on the road of life. And that road will have the unexpected from time to time. We all have a little bit of Vern Tessio in us, but the question is, what part do you play? Are you paralyzed, sitting in the middle of the tracks unable to move? Or the one who begins to crawl, one step at a time, playing it safe, trying to make it across on your own time? Or are you the one to jump up and start sprinting for your life only when something is threatening to take it?
How will you respond if you lose your job?
What would you do if you lost a loved one?
What would you say if someone close to you reveals a bomb-shell of a secret?
How will you react to a bad diagnosis?
[Insert an infinite amount of questions here.]
Life is hard. There is absolutely no questioning that. How do we respond to those difficult moments? That’s the most important question, isn’t it? The train was threatening to derail Vern Tessio, to make him “abandon ship” and jump the tracks.
The train was unexpected. The train wasn’t wanted. The train was still coming. And sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
So what do you do?
On a much, much smaller scale than the scene described above, some family members and I spent some time on Mother’s Day after dinner walking the train tracks near my grandmother’s home. They’re not technically abandoned, as a few small freights will make their way through from time to time, but we really didn’t have anything to worry about. We were determined to make it to the bridge that goes over the Passaic River. When we made it, however, we realized we had gone so far that if we turned back now, it would be pitch black by the time we got home. So we now knew we had to cross the bridge to get to the other side and continue to the main highway. (Where we phoned Daddy and made him pick us up.)
The walk had been fun and relaxing up until this point. Now, this bridge was not like the one in the movie – much shorter, less scary. Nevertheless, I had flip flops on. Flip flops and train tracks don’t go well together. Especially when over the bridge, the gaps between the tracks were wide enough to fall through. One miss-step…
I really didn’t think we’d ever walk over the bridge. It was unexpected.
It was in this moment where this scene popped into my head. My sister and I had been cracking jokes this whole time, quoting from the movie and others alike, like Fried Green Tomatoes. But once we actually began crossing the bridge, my joking stopped. I was TERRIFIED. I felt like Vern, letting a good 15-30 seconds go by before taking each step to the next track. Heart-pumping, legs shaky, I just wanted to get to the other side. Alive.
Lucky for me, there was no train revving its engines behind me. Then I started to think, what would I have done if there was?
I want to say I would have high-tailed it across that bridge, leaping like an Olympic long-jumper, never thinking about the human-sized holes between the tracks… I want to say that.
Think about this world. There are billions of people in it. Billions. That’s a number we can barely comprehend. My world is small and finite. It’s a snippet of the history of this earth. So when there’s mornings where I don’t even want to get out of bed, when too many unexpected moments creep into my life, when all I want to do is freeze on the bridge and cry, I think of the billions of people out there, still taking each step, in flip-flops no less.
When I see my best friend who just lost her father get out of bed every morning, go to work, plan her wedding, and continue to push forward…
When I read what those women in Cleveland suffered through during their kidnapping, and yet come out of it alive…
When I watch a close loved one receive a cancer diagnosis for the second time in her life, yet still focus on her children and family…
When I look at parents in my church raise children with extreme special needs, yet thrive as super-parents, loving on their children unconditionally…
None of the above asked for this. None of the above expected this. None of the above wanted this.
Yet they continue to walk the tracks – one step at a time.
Who am I to say I can’t too?
This world is so broken, so evil, so incredibly horrible at times. Yet I’m seeing people all over the world, who have every right to jump the tracks with what they’ve been through, still crossing the bridge. This amazes me. This humbles me. This encourages me. It should encourage you too.
The circumstances in our lives can cripple us with fear, anxiety, direst. It has for me many times over the years. I’ve responded to circumstances in my life wrong before. I’ve froze in the middle of the tracks, afraid to grow up, to move forward, to accept what was happening, to embrace change, to face the life that stood before me. It’s not easy. It never will be. I still have days where I long to just sleep the day away, ignoring life’s daily tasks.
But I’m learning. I’m crossing bridges.
We must cross over the bridges. We really have no other choice. The train is coming.
I crossed the bridge. As terrifying as it was, it was beautiful on the other side…