A bridge across the Delaware River connects Riegelsville, New Jersey, and Riegelsville, Pennsylvania. I cross it every time we drive from Connecticut (where we live in a church-provided rectory) to the home we built in Pennsylvania.
In 1904, John A. Roebling (of Brooklyn Bridge fame) built this three-span suspension bridge. It has iron towers and cables supporting a steel deck that runs nearly six hundred feet across the river. The length is not a problem for me; the width is. It is fifteen feet eleven-and-a-half inches from curb to curb. That sounds wide enough until you cut it in half, allowing less than eight feet per lane (and maybe a little less if you subtract the width of the white roadway stripe).
When we first started coming here, I would pray for a clean shot, hoping to race across before anyone driving in the opposite direction could meet me. More often, my prayer was answered by a hopped-up monster truck, its Dumbo side mirrors folded in, its lugs nuts roughly at eye level. I’d just pull over, capitulate.
My problem was I was over-thinking. I would glance to my left at the center stripe, then check my right mirror to see how many inches of leeway I had. I’d check out the oncoming truck: was the driver staying on his side of the line? My eyes were nervously flitting from left to right, to the mass and position of the approaching vehicle. My brain was chunking down too low, gauging the trees instead of seeing the forest.
With practice, enforced by many trips across the Delaware, I’ve mastered the Riegelsville Bridge. I stopped thinking and started driving. Driving a car—like riding a bike—is something your whole body does, all at once, as a unity. Once you start thinking about it, you smack the curb. You might even tip over.
Now I don’t look, I just see. Even that’s not quite right. I sense—my own presence, the form and motion of my Camry, the shape and feel of the bridge, the horizon, the presence of my opposing friend.
In one of the classic scenes of the first Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker must fly his sleek fighting machine through an impossibly narrow opening. If he tries to think his way through this, he’ll clip a wing and tumble in a ball of fire. Though everything militates against it, he must close his eyes, give himself to the wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and let the Force be his guide.
I wish I could say that the Jedi-warrior status I’ve achieved on the Riegelsville Bridge has transferred to the other impossibly tight squeezes of life. But in tight spots other than the river crossing, I’m mostly still thinking.
When my great wisdom teacher says, “Take no thought for your life, what you will eat, what you will drink, what you will wear,” I find I cannot escape my own mind. (Why can’t I “take no thought…”?). I reject Jesus’ wisdom as foolish, out of touch with reality. What’s not foolish, to my way of thinking, is worrying about everything, trying vainly to control all the variables, over-functioning like a crazy person. All of this, I am certain, puts me clearly in touch with reality.
I cannot close my eyes, acceding to the Spirit within, trusting that my whole being knows how to live, glide, dance through narrow, dark, and treacherous passages. But I’m learning, and my best teacher these days is a bridge that is fifteen feet eleven-and-a-half inches from curb to curb.