Photo from US Navy.
Jackson trembled. His eyes were closed against the steep drop calling him to his doom. He knew that to open them again would only deepen the pull in the pit of his stomach. What could he do?
The suspension bridge over the raging waters 200 feet below vibrated from the wind passing over the rope handrails and the thick rope center line, making a buzzing sound more felt than heard. How had he let himself be talked into this madness?
“Come on Jackson! You’re holding up the whole troop!”, called his best friend Brody from the far side of the bridge. “Don’t lose your nerve now!”
“I can’t open my eyes” he whimpered, almost to himself. “I know I’m going to fall!” he said in a slightly louder voice.
“Hold on!” said Brody. “I’m coming to help.”
With that he felt the center rope sink slightly from the weight of Brody returning from the far side. Brody’s footsteps across the bridge transmitted themselves through the rope. Jackson even felt Brody’s hands gliding along the handrails, first on one side and then on the other. As Brody approached Jackson in the center of the bridge, Jackson felt himself sinking even lower into the chasm from their combined weight.
Brody’s hands closed over Jackson’s and he whispered to him so the others wouldn’t hear “Don’t look down. Just open your eyes a little and look directly into mine.”
As directed, Jackson opened his eyes a crack and saw those deep brown irises not ten inches from his own. There was no way he could look down because Brody had blocked the view.
“Okay,” said Brody. “I’m staying right with you the rest of the way across. One step at a time. I’ll take one step backward while you take one step forward. If you can take the first step, the rest will be easier.”
With that, Brody moved his left foot off of the bridge and placed it behind his right foot, pulling slightly on Jackson’s hands to slide them in the same direction. Brody never took his eyes from Jackson’s as he willed him to make just one forward step. Jackson’s nerve almost broke but he knew he couldn’t disappoint his friend. Just watching those eyes, he took that initial step, unlocking the rigidness that had overtaken his legs.
“That’s it,” said Brody. “The rest will be much easier. Just keep looking into my eyes and moving your feet one step at a time.”
“I can do this,” Jackson said to himself as he gathered his nerve and followed Brody across the span to the far side, just one step at a time.
When they reached the platform at the other end of the bridge, the rest of the troop grabbed Jackson and pulled him to safety, then let out a cry like a pack of wolves. None of the others had frozen in the middle of the bridge, but all of them had been just a little scared. Jackson’s loss of nerve only justified each scout’s feelings as being real and natural, and they had all conquered the passage. This was the true measure of their kinship and brotherhood. There were no recriminations, no name calling, no jeers. Only six boys on an adventure.
Maybe going back would be easier. Only time would tell.