Author: Shreya Volety
There is a bridge across the river. It’s not a long river. But it’s a very long bridge. There is a man standing on the bridge staring at the water. The water isn’t blue or grey or green or any of the fancy colors generally attributed to water. The water is in the color of water. If you’d like me to be more specific, it’s colorless. There is a man standing on the bridge staring at the water. Beside him there is a woman. Beside the woman stands a teenager. Beside the teenager is an old woman.
There is a man standing on the bridge.
Actually, there are many people standing on the bridge, all in a single file, beside each other.
They’re all silent.
But it is the man who climbs the railing.
And the other people watch.
It is a long bridge. It is also a wide bridge. Which means that there are people walking by as the man slowly climbs the railing.
You are standing in the line. Very far away from the man. You are a good person. You are a decent person. You look at all the people walking by and you think incredulously,
“Don’t they SEE?”
“THERE’S A MAN STANDING ON THE RAILING OF A BRIDGE. CAN THEY NOT SEE?”
Apparently they can’t. But you are a good, decent person. You see.
You do, don’t you?
So you make your mind up to go put some sense into the man. And then you freeze. What do you tell him? Your wordlessness paralyzes you. You’ve written and debated all your life. You have challenged people, called them out and you have won. You have always won.
There’s a man standing on the railing, and you can’t say anything. Because you don’t have anything to say. Because good people are decent. They do well in life, they treat their family right, they exercise every morning, drink enough water, go to good colleges and universities, get good jobs, get promoted, and pay their taxes. Good people talk to a man who is standing on the railing. But you have no words.
Because good people NEVER stand in the line on a bridge to climb a spot on the railing.
You’re standing in the line. You realize you’re one of them too.
You’re desperate for the others on the bridge to say something.
They’re all silent.
The people continue to walk by.
WHY. DON’T. THEY. SEE.
The man teeters on the edge. And then he climbs down the railing. He swaps places with the woman. They both continue staring at the river. The silence continues. The man drags himself out of the line and joins the rest of the people walking by. But he’ll be back in the line. You’ll see. He always comes back.
The woman climbs the railing. And then she jumps. The silence continues.
You slip out of the line. You catch up with the man who just left. He sees you. You hold his hand. You are both good people. And continue walking.
WHY DON’T THEY SEE?
They do. But they are already holding hands with someone. They know that good people don’t jump. Until they do. The people walking by are also watching, hoping the next man climbs down. Because when he leaves the line, someone else will come to hold his hand. As you did. And then neither of you will let go and neither of you will join the line again. Hopefully. You can’t be sure. You can never be sure. Then why try?
Because you’re a good person. So you hold his hand and you walk by.
“They say that a person’s personality is the sum of their experiences. But that isn’t true, at least not entirely, because if our past was all that defined us, we’d never be able to put up with ourselves. We need to be allowed to convince ourselves that we’re more than the mistakes we made yesterday. That we are all of our next choices, too, all of our tomorrows.” -Frederick Backman, Anxious People.