I crept up to the edge. I looked to the right where it seemed to go on forever. Then I turned to the left where it appeared as though it curved out of sight. Ahead lay an expanse that stretched to the horizon. Up, I already knew had no limits. I hesitated before looking down.
It seemed to me that every individual step had been like this: as though I always stood on top of a pillar separated from everything that had come before and would come next. I did not know quite how I'd gotten there nor how long I had been there. But, there I was and I knew I had to move on. This was not the end, the goal.
Somehow I knew that I was not in danger of falling. I closed my eyes. I felt a wind flow around me, caress me, cradle me, yet, at the same time, nudge me on. Had there been leaves, I might have heard a rustle, but all I heard was the whistle in my ears. I thought I detected a gentle sweet aroma, but I could not identify it. There I remained momentarily, seemingly ready, yet apparently stymied in each direction. I had been told that there was a time for turning. But, I knew there was no turning back.
With great care I considered, evaluated, searched for a ladder, a gateway, a ford.
I reached up, stretching as tall as I could, reaching.
Perhaps a bottom rung existed just beyond my reach as though a helicopter had dropped a rope ladder. Every muscle of my body stretched as I forced my bones almost out of their sockets. Did I hope someone or something would come down to get me if only I willed it enough? Eyes closed, fingertips scraping the sky I jumped from my tiptoes only to land where I had been. My hands fell to my wrists as my arms collapsed at my elbows then my shoulders, and my head dropped on my chest, while my body doubled over. I turned over like a wooden "Jacob's Ladder". Yet, as soon as a new piece of myself collapsed I found myself repeatedly and continuously as I was, ready to reach again. I felt both exhilarated and exhausted from the exertion. The stretching energized me and readied me for more, yet as soon as I crumbled I wondered where I would get the energy to reach again. Somehow......
I knelt down on my knees, as though beseeching help.
Recalling the medieval woodcut of a man lifting the corner of the sky as though it was a curtain masking a gateway to a different, richer reality, I peeked around the edges of my existence. Who was I? Where had I been? Why was I here? Whom had I met? What had I done?
I had a name. Everyone has a name.
This had been given to me. It was, perhaps, the first gift I had received after life itself. This name I heard in my sleep. I sometimes heard it called twice as Abraham and Samuel had been called. The sound usually came with soft affection, at other, rare, times with intense urgency. I knew that this sound somehow represented the deepest essence of who I was. I listened for it but heard only the wind.
Others I encountered during my years called me by different names, some sweet, some teasing. In due time I came to be known, I developed a reputation and this name preceded me.
I knew that I had not come from far away, at least not recently.
I had heard stories of very distant places, places that seemed very foreign.
There were wars among the stars in a land far away and a time long ago.
I had been near Kansas and I knew that it was possible to get from Kansas to the Emerald City. But, I knew I was not in Kansas, nor Oz.
I had read of a boy with a purple crayon (was it Ralph?) who created worlds wherever he walked. But I saw no unusual purple lines around me now.
As strange as this place was, I knew that it was of my own making, not Ralph's.
However, except for what was immediately before me, everything and everyone was quite familiar to me.
While at the moment I seemed utterly alone and confused, I knew that I had just recently left home and all that I knew.
All the colors were normal. The aroma of the wind that blew by was not unusual. Though the moment was especially quiet, the whistle in my ears was not a foreign sound.
I wondered how or why I had gotten to this spot.
I had a faint recollection of standing on similar "pillars".
I remembered that I had, at various times, stood in silence and wondered where my next step both should and would take me.
I felt secure in the knowledge that each time I had been in a similar place I, obviously, after all... I was now here and not there, been able to move forward.
I had been home. I had been away from home. This did not seem too different from either of those... except that I knew I needed to move on.
My family and others close to me had told that I would face moments like this.
With compassion and concern I had heard my parents talk of times when they had stood before a similar expanse.
My sister once told me of this special aroma. She had remarked at how thrilling the moment was when she had encountered it. There was something about a fresh cut lawn on a sunny afternoon, a newly ground batch of coffee on a rainy morning, an infant waking from a nap.
My brother had remarked about the sound. A soft white noise, a rich deep Russian bass holding his tone, a group of women singing in close harmony, a collection of refrigerators slowly shifting through their cycles.
I had accomplished many things. But now the time had come to do something here.
I lay down flat, prostrate before a source of strength I did not know how to name.
I tucked my toes in and crept forward.
The ground was soft and accepting. At the same time it felt secure. As easy as it was to put my toes in, I felt gently held so that I could move forward without fear of being let go.
With my hands ahead of me I once again reached. This time, however, not with the urgency of when I sought the ladder.
Beyond me I felt a welcoming nearly moist warmth.
Almost as though I had reached the primordial waters that covered the earth.
A chaotic, though not angry, turbulence lay ahead. Yet, as I neared it it seemed to stabilize.
I recognized the wind that hovered above my face.
Could other "pillars" emerge or be brought near?
Yes, I had to move, but not because the ground under me was about to dissolve away. I knew that I was on somewhat solid ground. I had to move on. There was something else I needed to do.
If I was on something now, it seemed safe to reason that I would continue to be on something if I moved beyond.
As Jacob did when he crossed the Yabok, I moved half of all that was mine out beyond me.
If it needed to happen, it would happen now.
I was ready for a struggle... or anything that I might encounter.
I finally recognized that this was yet another transformative moment in my life.
I released my toes.
Suddenly I entered a free fall.
As if my catcher had missed me on the flying trapeze
Or I had jumped from an airplane without opening my parachute.
Even more startling, it was as those moments in a dream where the bottom simply falls out.
Everything moved past me at an increasingly accelerating rate.
As I lay, still falling, I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
I remembered what Roosevelt had said: "The only thing I had to fear was fear itself."
With each breath I felt my stability increase. It was not that I was no longer falling, but that everything around me began to move with the same rhythms as I.
I still hoped for a bridge to another side. As the image of bridge grew in my mind I remembered that Roosevelt's wisdom had been uttered almost two hundred years earlier by R. Nachman of Bratslav, who had said that the essential thing was not to fear.
I continued to breathe with a steady slow rhythm. I began to feel that which was beyond me enter and become part of me.
I knew something else that R. Nachman had taught:
Kol ha'olam kulo gesher tzar me'od. The entire world is a very narrow bridge.
I realized that if the entire world is a very narrow bridge, I was already on that bridge to whatever was on the other side.
My breathing slowed and became even more steady. My breathing made me as one with all that surrounded me.
It was then that I realized that I, myself, was part of that bridge: like a bridge over troubled waters.
As I moved onward, the Jacob's ladder that had collapsed down on me when I struggled to reach upward now effortlessly rippled through me, from my feet forward.
The energies of others flowed through me.
I found the ability to continue.