suspended high on a narrow bridge
This past summer, our family had the occasion to go on an interesting excursion in Montana. It was called a treetop walk. It consisted of bridges, suspended from trees by cables, seventy feet high in the treetops of the Big Mountain forest outside of Whitefish. Since we had never done anything of this nature before, it seemed exciting and far less worrisome than the zip-lining we had just done as a family earlier that morning.
As we meandered through the wooded paths and worked our way up to the treetop walk area, the thought of walking on suspended bridges seemed like a pleasant way to see the world from above. What a calm way to end the day. When we finally arrived at the bridges, I felt immediately that it was going to be the furthest thing from a calm saunter through the treetops. This was a horror flick waiting to happen.
We had learned how to hitch up our safety cables, connected to our harnesses, in a training session earlier. But hitching these cables up on the actual bridge cables seemed like a completely different bird indeed. At times, there wasn't anything to hold onto as one had to reach up high to connect to the cables. The bridges bounced up and down as we walked, and there were tremendous gaps in the cabling between hand and feet. As a Jewish mother I wondered first how I could bring my family out here just to kill all of us, and then why I would come up with a hair-brained scheme such as this even for myself.
When I look back at how I managed to get through what seemed like a harrowing and fearful time, I can recall this above all: I focused on my breathing, careful stepping and remaining calm. I have always been squeamish about heights and have tried to work on that discomfort for years. My eldest twin son knew the terror I was feeling and did the best he could to assist me with the cabling. With each step, I focused on the middah of calmness; every foot placement was calculated and gentle throughout the entire walk, each breath was sustained and slow.
Our kids, on the other hand, simply had no fear at all. They thought is was a complete thrill and no idea of the falling and dangling that could happen with a misstep. The bridge was as wide as could be to them and the bounce of the bridge was a treat. There was certainly a difference in the way that they, versus the parents, handled that narrow bridge during that hour and a half.
we are all on that bridge
Looking back on this activity, it parallels very neatly with Rabbi Nachman's words. Life is a much narrower bridge than we perceive. I believe age has a lot to do with how narrow and bouncy the bridge of life is perceived. Wisdom, experience and events can play a large role in how we walk across that bridge. For the young, there is courage and agility that makes the bridge exciting; however, there is also a level of innocence and being unaware of the dangers that makes that bridge easy and conquerable. For those of us who have been on the bridge for awhile, we have become used to the bouncing a little more, the winds and unsettling events of life. But at times, we are all too aware of how narrow the bridge is and how easy it could be to slip off or hang in our harnesses, dangling while we wait for help.
No matter what our perspective or our age, the message Rabbi Nachman gives us is the same: we must recall not to be afraid, not to be afraid at all. Hashem surrounds us like the safety cables and knows where we are on the bridge. When we engage calmness in our walk and walk more courageously, we will walk through life in a more tranquil way toward our destinations.
[You can listen here for various versions of the song.]