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Bridges We Have Crossed

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“I am where I am because of the bridges I have crossed.”
Oprah Winfrey

When I was a little girl, my mother wouldn’t let me go barefoot or play outside, and most of my life, I was told my asthma was so bad I couldn’t even take Phys Ed. My grade school report cards reflect a problem of some sort because they show I was absent far more days than I was present. Of course now I realize mother was obsessively overprotective. In all fairness to her, however, an asthma attack left me gasping like a giant dying dog. Had James been my parent, he would have said, “You’ve got to fight your way through that stuff, big boy,” and he’s right. If we give in to our weaknesses, we will never push beyond our boundaries and become the person we know we’re capable of being. Whether it was instinct, or in defiance of the way I was raised, I’ve spent most of my adult life in pursuit of that person. The strong one, not the one who went through childhood wrapped in swaddling clothes, gloves, a heavy muffler and one too many sweaters.

When I was in my 20s, I became one of the guys, learned to shoot everything from pistols to M1 Abrams tanks, raced cars, drank bad tequila that doubled as nail polish remover, hacked my way through three canopy jungles, scuba dived and took nearly every dare that came my way. Not related to taking a dare, but I’m the only person you know who’s been chased out of a store and down the block, by knife-wielding proprietors in two different countries. No… I didn’t steal anything. I just took pictures, and from what I gathered, one of my photos stole the soul of a pressed duck in a Chinese grocery store. The other photo captured my friend, Mary, as she ate a grape she didn’t pay for in a small Parisian shop. Neither photo warranted running for my life.

Ask my friend, Rob, about the night I hired a stranger with a pickup truck to take me eight miles, round trip, so I could photograph a 17th century Mexican church before it got dark. The priest was allegedly a serial killer who buried women under the floor of the church sanctuary. I mean really… How could I pass that up?

As a result of being jostled about for 12 hours in an old gold Chrysler as it zigged and zagged and hugged its way down a sometimes less than one lane mountainous dirt road, Rob’s back doubled up like a pretzel. He hobbled to the room, unable to go any further. Actually, he didn’t want me to go any further either. You might also ask Rob how angry he was when, at 11:30pm, I finally returned to the tiny Mexican village with tales of the truck breaking down and Indians on horseback who’d come down from the mountains to stare at me while my driver fixed the truck. Yikes! Rob was mad!! Worried. Frantic… Did I say mad?

While I’m not stupid, I can get caught up in the moment and fail to see when I’ve crossed the line between fun and fear. Adventurous and adverse. Like the time the Commandante of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police and his “assistants” stalked me for two days in Mexico, forcing me to take refuge in a Catholic church. He proved his point: I was asking too many questions, poking my nose into areas better left alone. Since James was against my going to Mexico to write a story about drug lords, I failed to mention the stalking thing when I called him that night from my hotel. Like Rob, James would have been mad, worried, frantic… Did I say mad? If that experience wasn’t bad enough, after I returned to the U.S., a Mexican man knocked on my door. While I can’t tell you what he said, I got that message… mainly because there wasn’t any story, or adrenaline fix, worth bringing that into my home.

I guess this is my way of saying, I’m lucky and grateful to have crossed these, and other bridges. They’ve made me a different person from the little girl who lay in bed with Vicks Vapo Rub and a hot towel on her chest; who had to imagine what it was like to build a snow fort and hole up with her friends until dinner time.

In case you’re wondering, I had no problem determining whether breast cancer fit into the fun or fear category. For the first few weeks, I was terrified! But like James says, I “fought my way through that stuff” on a bridge I never wanted to cross. All of these experiences have made me realize, I can do anything! While I may not want to, I can cross any bridge and deal with what’s on the other side.

What bridges have you crossed? Have you thought about the ways they’ve made you ready for the bridges yet to come?