As a child I lived with many fears, the primary one being the fear of heights. I still suffer from acrophobia, which is an irrational fear of being in high places. Notice the word irrational. That means it does no good to tell me I can’t possibly fall or to rationalize in any way how abnormal my panic is. I know.
With careful self-monitoring I managed to live ten or eleven years without any close calls related to my phobia. And then, on the brink of puberty, I had a near-death experience.
We lived in Gainesville, Texas, a town of about 8,000. Our house sat within walking distance of downtown and often Mama allowed us older kids to walk to the library or to the square. Daddy’s store stood right across from the courthouse in the same block as the picture show and S.H. Kress, a wonderful five-and-ten cent store.
On one such trip my sister Betty, three years older than I, suggested we take a short cut down the railroad track. I was pretty sure this would not meet Mama’s approval but sister-pressure won out and I went along with the plan. We reached the crossing and left the street for the tracks with its rough terrain and boring scenery. Soon we came to a trestle, a bridge made of nothing but iron rails and wooden cross-ties. We started across, me stretching short legs to step from one tie to the next. Before we had gone twenty feet we were way high off the ground. Did I mention my irrational fear of heights?
No hand rail. Nothing for support. I focused on the ties, trying to avoid a misstep that would make me fall to my death. Between the timbers and the rails I could see the ground far, far below. I was afraid to go forward and afraid to stand still.
My sister said, “Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to worry about. Unless a train comes along while we’re on this bridge.”
I stopped dead still. I could not walk and process this information. Then she outlined her safety plan: If we hear a train coming we should run — either forward or back to the nearest embankment.
RUN? When walking was more than I could safely manage? Could I overcome all my fears and save myself?
That’s a question that will never be answered, since a train did not come upon us that day. We made it to town safely.
I thanked God for saving my life and promised Him I would never hike the tracks again.
I have kept that promise.