The sign is clear. Sitting in the middle of the road, with only a narrow lane available for local traffic into the small condominium complex at the edge of the lake, the large sign warns, “BRIDGE CLOSED!” In fact, it’s the third notification of the same message. Within 50 yards of direct sight, a metal gate across the road sways in the strong wind that comes across the top of the ancient dam. It, too, displays the obvious indication that the road is closed. A small Bobcat sits in front of the barrier, accented with a construction porta-potty. Hard to miss.
These aren’t the first warnings about the closure. A similar caution is posted at the turn into the road that circles the lake (and crosses the unsafe dam). That notice comes with a large circular area that allows for an easy turnaround. And way before that point, at the connector road that turns off the main highway – at the only stop light around – a small billboard alerts drivers that the lake road is interrupted by the bridge closure. It includes directions to a simple detour.
Still, during the several days David and I spent at the lake condo near the bridge, dozens of drivers seemed surprised at the closed road. They drove around the first sawhorse barrier and were forced to back away from the metal gate. Escape required making the 90 degree turn (in reverse) into the small parking lot for the condos, then backtracking the way they had come.
For most vehicles, this maneuver was easy. A tour bus and a tractor trailer truck, however, found it quite difficult. (They had also ignored the signs posting the load limit for the deteriorating road across the top of the dam, but that oversight didn’t have the immediate consequences enforced by the barriers that blocked their path.)
The truck driver was angry as well as inconvenienced – at least that’s my interpretation of the horn blasts he directed toward the gate. Like a beached whale, the truck was stuck in the unforgiving space. Its exit was very difficult, though quite fascinating to watch. At least a dozen times the driver inched his big rig forward or backward as he navigated the tight turn and small parking area dotted with cars. He scowled at me as I watched him from the porch, and I was tempted to stick my tongue out at him and proclaim, “Didn’t you see the sign, you idiot?” (I’m that kind of person.)
Noticing the signs is surprisingly hard for most of us. Whether it’s inattention, entitlement, denial, or what-have-you, we don’t see (or don’t want to see) the clear clues smack in front of our faces. Twelve Step recovery wisdom warns against HALT – getting too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. (Some add bored, which is another dangerous state.) Yet, we are more apt to ignore these signs than to pay attention.
I tend to push past tired until I’m flattened against the gate of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion. I ignore the markers that I am over-functioning, over-controlling, or over-rescuing. Instead of asking for help or holding boundaries about appropriate expectations, I can get lost in resentment and depression. This combination ultimately triggers the desperate panic of abandonment and loneliness that is imbedded in my bones.
The result is either an internal implosion that collapses my limited energy, or worse, an external explosion of a cursing, crying conniption fit. Neither are pretty, believe me. Idiotic, really. Hmm….
The positive is that both reactions get my attention these days. When exhaustion and depression curl my toes, eventually I am forced to read the signs. If I still ignore them (usually because a strong voice in my head says there isn’t a viable alternative except to soldier on, which is mostly true, actually), the ape-s— crazy crumbling forces me to backup and find a healthier path.
I am grateful that God is showering me with grace about the signs in my life and my inability to heed them. I am writing near the end of a long-planned week away at the mountain lake, which came at just the right time. Sleep and some long quiet walks nourished me. The sweet female clinical staff lavished me with prayers and encouragement when I confessed my exhaustion over some ongoing challenges shortly before I left for this retreat. My daughter patiently stayed present with me through the ape-s— crazy decompensation that came when I couldn’t handle an unexpected change in travel plans that removed a day of my break from responsibilities. The cool mountain air and the breathtaking vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway refreshed and restored my soul.
These, too, are important signs. Pay attention, God invites.
Marnie C. Ferree