On Saturday, I did something very foolish. I was in a hurry as I came to a stop at the intersection just south of town.
Glancing to my right, I saw a pickup truck in the distance. I can beat that truck, I thought to myself. My foot was poised to hit the gas pedal, when something or Someone made me hesitate. An instant later, a huge RV rushed by in front of me.
I gasped. Why hadn’t I seen that coming? If I’d pulled out a moment ago, I’d be so dead. So very Don’t-open-the-casket dead! I slumped in my seat, my heart pounding away. Uh, thanks Lord! Thank you so much!
I remembered the odd premonition about death that I’d had several weeks ago. I’d even written about it in one of my last columns. Today, that premonition had nearly come to pass.
Feeling shaken, I went home and told my daughter about my brush with death. Mystia responded like a typical teenager. “We need to celebrate,” she said.
“Yeah. Celebrate that you’re alive. Let’s go adventuring.”
Off to the Land of Up-side-down? It didn’t sound like a bad idea, actually. I could use some relaxation, today.
Grabbing our jackets, we got into the mini-van and headed into no man’s land, not knowing where we’d end up. We cruised down backroads, wandering over hill and dale—losing track of time as we wandered deeper and deeper into the boonies. Near sunset, we finally came to a stop in a densely-wooded area near an old arched bridge. Dead End Bridge.
“What are we doing here?” I wondered aloud, staring at the pretty bouquets and memorials gracing the rail of the bridge. It was a sad spot—a place where someone had died…a poignant reminder of my own brush with death, earlier.
My daughter got out of the mini-van. She stretched and yawned, then mumbled something about exploring before disappearing down a shadowy path leading beneath the bridge.
I got out slowly. This place always made me feel uneasy, but today it was especially haunting. I felt a prickle of apprehension as I crossed the wooden planks, my footsteps echoing on Dead End Bridge.
“Wait for me, Mystia!” I called. I leaned over the rail, peering down into the deep ravine. All was silent. The whisper of the wind was the only sound I could hear.
Bending down, I looked through a hole in the planks. Nothing. The old bridge had stolen my child. She’d vanished as surely as if a trap door had sprung open beneath the bridge and swallowed her up.
“Mystia Dawn! Where are you? Quit teasing me, now.”
Carefully, I worked my way down the path to the creek bed. There was no sign of my daughter. That aggravating kid!
I stood looking about at the cliffs and cavernous ravine. Beneath the bridge, a pinnacle of hardened earth jutted heavenward—just like an old tombstone. I stared at the formation. What an unusual thing to find here. Almost as if the earth, itself, had declared this spot sacred. A place where hearts broke, and tears were shed.
I stared at the earthen tombstone till a sudden noise jolted me from my reverie.
The sound startled me. Bang-bang-bang! It was gunfire in the woods. Hunters were out there. And Mystia was nowhere to be seen. Where was she!
Fear slid across my soul, as dark as the lengthening shadows around me—a feeling of déjà vu . Years ago, a much tinier Mystia Dawn had made headlines in the local newspaper when she’d disappeared just like this. She’d sneaked off and followed Grandpa’s cows into the hills. Hours had gone by before we’d found her playing in a distant creek. What panic had overwhelmed me that day! I felt a surge of that same fear as I stood beneath the bridge, staring at the tangled brush and earthen tombstone.
I started tramping up and down the creek, growing more and more agitated. Mad and worried. Furious and fretful, I picked my way through the brush, shouting my daughter’s name. Panting, I paused to listen.
A familiar sound drifted to my ears. The slam of a van door and the start of an engine. That kid!
I scrambled up the bank and ran across the bridge, my footsteps echoing loudly against the planks. I could see the mini-van backing slowly down the trail with a grinning Mystia at the wheel. She laughed at me as I ran toward the van, yelling. “This adventuring business, young lady, is getting just a bit out of hand!”
Mystia stopped the van. “You know you love a good joke, Mom! Remember? April Fools is your favorite day and…”
“April Fools is a long, long ways off, Mystia!” I said. “We’re not even to New Years, yet! How about working on a resolution or two…starting with ‘I will not panic my mother, ever again’!” My tirade was just getting started, but then somehow my words petered out and I stood there staring at my errant child. She was the same curly-headed youngster who had disappeared into the hills so many years ago. Just bigger.
My anger drained out of me and I knew I had to forgive her. It was especially important, today. This was the day I’d almost died, leaving my child motherless and forlorn. No more Adventuring. No more exploring in the Land of Up-side-down.
I sighed. “I think we’ve had enough adventuring for today,” I said, climbing into the van. And enough adventuring for tomorrow, too. And the tomorrow after that, I wanted to add. But I didn’t. We have no promise of tomorrow. We only have this moment, today.
Slowly, we drove away into the rays of the setting sun. I watched in the rearview mirror as the bridge disappeared into the burgeoning twilight—the lonely little bridge with its pretty bouquets and unique earthen tombstone.
I knew that somewhere ahead of us, hidden in the mists of time, there awaits an even larger bridge. Somewhere in the distance, there’s a tombstone with our names inscribed…And the impending dates of death.
That date could be tomorrow. It could be today.
When we cross that final bridge and our echoing footsteps fade away forever, we will want our legacies to be lasting ones. We’ll want the memorials and remembrance bouquets to be beautiful, indeed. When each of us cross all alone….
At eternity’s Dead End Bridge.