I was today years old when I learned my fear of driving over bridges has a name: gephyrophobia. *
Because I live near the “City of Bridges,” gephyrophobia can be a problem since it’s hard to avoid one or more of the 446 bridges in Pittsburgh. (Although, technically, 445 because the Fern Hollow bridge collapsed last month). If I’m driving and have to cross one, I try to breathe calmly and look straight ahead instead of over the side into whatever body of water or ravine is below. If that doesn’t work, and I’m alone, I talk to myself or sing. And if that doesn’t work, I give my fear permission to do whatever it’s threatening to do. What usually happens is…nothing, because by that time, I’m already on the other side.
Not all bridges scare me. Bridges on hiking or biking trails fill me with peace, even this one at Belmar, a former railroad bridge that crosses the Allegheny River in Venango County. This would seem counterintuitive to gephyrophobia, but apparently my phobia makes up its own rules.
This small foot bridge that crosses Tom’s Run in Cook Forest is particularly lovely. I took this photo in December, and just looking at it again makes me happy.
Burning a bridge—figuratively speaking—doesn’t scare me, either. God knows I’ve lit a few in my life, mostly without regret. I agree that, as Don Henley sings, “Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge.”
I confess, though, that I’m better at burning bridges than building them. Building bridges isn’t wholly within my skill set. “Once bitten twice shy,” I don’t have a lot of positive experiences in conflict resolution. Someone almost always yells louder, swears more, or otherwise dismisses me to make their point, and I give up. (Not always, but most of the time.)
I’d rather drive the entire 20-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel singing “Alice’s Restaurant” alone than confront conflict, especially in the current political and societal climate, when more bridges are being burned than built. It’s like we collectively suffer from a societal form of gephyrophobia. When so many people want to force others across their bridges instead of meeting halfway to look over the edge together, how do we find common ground?
It’s easier, and in some cases safer, to stay on our own side of a bridge. I mean, I won’t cross anyone’s bridge who supports white supremacy, for example. But in general, none of us is always right all of the time, and certainly no one’s bridge is the only bridge to understanding and peace.
I wish I could land this on a flat surface and offer a marvelous, simple solution, but all I have are questions, namely this one: How do you deal with societal (or actual) gephyrophobia? Do you or someone you know engage in building bridges? Resources are always welcome 🙂
* The first syllable of gephyrophobia is pronounced “Jeff,” even though my instinct is to use a hard “g” sound, like I do with GIF, an acronym for Graphics Interface File. “They,” whoever they are, say that the proper pronunciation of GIF is “jif” like the peanut butter, but that makes no sense when the first letter represents the word “graphics.” We don’t pronounce graphics as “japhics,” right? Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.