Narrow Bridge

Gary - Newark, Delaware
Entered on November 5, 2011

I believe that life is a narrow bridge.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, the 18th century luminary of Hasidism, wrote:

“All the world is just a narrow bridge.

The most essential thing is not to fear at all.”

In my most difficult times, I feel like I must walk carefully down the narrow bridge. That one misstep could cause me to fall to my doom. That there is no room for error. If this seems harsh, then so be it. Life is often harsh, and cruel.

There was a time in my life when, as I drove to work, I was tempted to keep driving. To chuck it all. But I stayed upon the straight and narrow, placing one foot in front of the other, and striving to create a life situation in which I could not just survive but thrive. It required me, day after day, hour after hour, to walk that narrow bridge. To find an approach to my life that was… livable.

It may have been just coincidence, but shortly after I became aware of Rabbi Nachman’s saying, I found myself with a distinct fear of heights. Perhaps I internalized the conceptual bridge into real ones. Or perhaps I was struggling with that troublesome second line of Rabbi Nachman’s quote. Not to fear at all? But aren’t there times when fear is justified, indeed necessary? I have recently come upon a more accurate translation that places the second line in a wholly different light. Instead of “not to fear at all”, this new translation yields “The most essential thing is not to frighten yourself”. Fear, in times of great trouble, is appropriate and potentially life saving. On the other hand, when I am merely frightening myself, I am over-reacting to circumstance. I am losing my balance.

My narrow bridge is mine to walk. I must find my own way. But that way is dependent on not frightening myself. To keep my faith along the path I need to embrace those who are important to me. They hold my hand and lend me support when I become afraid. They help remind me why I am crossing this bridge in the first place.

Another aspect of my own safe passage is listening attentively to the stories of others who are crossing their own bridges. Their stories of conviction under duress, of strength and success when failure is so close at hand, of survival after occasional stumbles along the way, help me stay right-minded on my own journey.

There are times when life is hard, sometimes very hard indeed. It is in exactly those moments that I find out whether I am able to stay on my narrow bridge or whether I will fall. And it is in those moments that I begin to comprehend the final lesson of the narrow bridge. My ability to successfully navigate those most treacherous circumstances is highly dependent on how I have been behaving when not under stress. If I have been true to my own self during the calm times when the bridge feels wide, then I find it much easier to manage the difficult ones. Like a tightrope walker, all of the practice I have done daily, when, if you will, I have a safety net, comes to fruition in those challenging times when it seems like I cannot even see the bottom.

For me, life is a narrow bridge. May I cross it without frightening myself.