Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is editor and publisher of the Stanstead Journal.
Posted 10.01.03
Stanstead, Quebec


I took my family to the Coaticook Gorge and all I got was this lousy panic attack

Aging I can handle. Rogue hairs in my eyebrows, nose, and ears? Bring 'em on. That popping noise every time I bend down? Just my bones settling.

What really distresses me is the fact that I have become a scaredy-cat.

This is weenie-ness beyond the usual affliction that comes with age fretting about too much cholesterol, refusing to swim in water that isn't quite at the boiling point. We're talking irrational fears, anxiety attacks.

I started having attacks around the time my youngest was born. It would start with palpitations, then a tightening of the chest, followed by light-headedness, sweating, and heavy breathing -- kind of like my romantic life except with the clear awareness that I am speeding towards the bleak void of death. And less kissing.

The attacks are infrequent and only two or three times have had me curled up in a fetal position under the bed. But it's kind of like living with a hygiene-impaired roommate who cooks nothing but cabbage and bacon -- even when he's not there, he's there.

Heights, for instance, seem to have become a problem. Last summer, I had a guy up on my roof looking at our chimney. He called me up to show me some damage. As he explained about water damage, I nodded and said, "Uh-huh, uh-huh. I see," when inside I was shrieking "JEEEEZ-UZ!!!" I nearly added a bit of water damage to the chimney myself that day.

All this to say that my fears were put to the test this past Sunday with a trip to the Coaticook Gorge. It's a beautiful spot, with the world's longest bridge -- no wait, world's longest suspension bridge. Sorry -- world's longest pedestrian suspension bridge. It's some kind of record anyway.

And some kind of high. The kids wanted to cross as soon as we arrived at the park. They scampered up the embankment, excitedly admiring the span.

"What if it falls? What if there are too many people on it?" asked James, not so much worried as thrilled at the possibility.

"It's not going to fall," I said. "Hundreds of people walk across it every day."

But what if it did fall. Things fall. I've seen enough action movies to realize that all you need is one little weakened cable or alien attack to send the whole thing collapsing in slow motion.

Begin palpitations.

The kids scurried across, running to the edge and back, looking over the sides at the jagged rocks and undoubtedly prickly bushes below. All I could see when I looked to the side was the fenced railing, which only went up to the middle of my chest. Is that safe? Why, someone could easily climb over that or even lean over it or even be pulled by some kind of invisible force over it...

Commencing light-headedness.

I did not so much walk across the bridge as speed-walk across it -- straight down the middle. I would have picked up the pace even more if it hadn't been for the bozo in front of me, impressing his girlfriend by intentionally trying to rock the bridge. It moves? Did you know this bridge moves! Where's that invisible force when you need it?

Sweating engaged.

I made it across without resorting to crawling, presented a brave face to my kids when they eventually caught up (a somewhat pale brave face, I might add) and we enjoyed the rest of our visit through the gorge.

Of course, when we had returned from the walk, the children wanted to cross the bridge one more time. The baby was asleep in her stroller at this point so I figured, "Maybe without her running around, the anxiety level will be less." Must…face….fears.

"What if it falls?" asked James as we ran up the hill again.

Oh please, don't start this again.

Was it any better? I walked a little slower this time and even looked down. I enjoyed the view of the Coaticook countryside (saying to myself, "You know, I can see that same view from solid land..."), and tried not to fixate on my kids leaping and running behind me and how easy it would be for them to climb up one of the support cables (and with James, that's not beyond the realm of possibility).

It was a bit better on the second crossing. I even crossed back again without passing out. I was proud of myself for not letting my anxieties get the best of me. But if you had been in Quebec last Sunday and passed by the Coaticook Gorge, you might have seen a man walking across the suspension bridge like he had a broom up his rear and aging before your very eyes.