A Very Narrow Bridge

Last week my husband and I and a couple we are friendly with went for a hike in the Negev Desert. We had asked someone knowledgeable to recommend a trail. The person saw that we were not exactly teenagers and that in addition to us, our friends’ son and daughter-in-law and their three young children were present.

We set off into the desert passing a number of camels, climbing in our cars to the top of an overlook to the Great Machtesh (crater), and then continued on to the eucalyptus parking area that was beside the colored sands—sands that were naturally colored from the minerals in them.

Our friends’ son and wife decided not to come on the hike, but their having a car of their own enabled us to leave our own car at the finish of the hike.

We started along the trail. At first it was a gradual rise along a path that was quite beautiful. We passed some exquisitely colored sand formations and the rocks formed patterns in the sunlight. Soon the path turned upward and we climbed along the rocks. Then we saw a wall in front of us and a trail marking pointing up. We found metal handholds and scaled that wall and came to the top—or so we thought, but we found out that at the top of the mountain, the trail led to the top of another mountain and at the top of that mountain, there was yet another. The path became steeper and steeper. Finally, we reached the top. The view was magnificent.

We were walking in the heat of the day. We had sufficient water and food, but the heat and the very persistent flies made it less than pleasant. However, having gotten to the mountaintop, we hoped that the second part of the hike would be easier.

It wasn’t. The way down was along a path that ranged between 8 and 20 inches, was covered with dry pebbles, so there was not a decent foothold, and had only pointy rocks to hold onto. The mountain was called “the Big Fin” but I refer to it as “Stegosaurus Mountain.” My husband and one of our friends chose to propel themselves down the mountain in a sitting position, however I was wearing a skirt and there was no way that would work, so I watched every step (as did they) and continued on. We had noticed at the beginning of the climb that there was no cell phone reception and so I had shut off my cell phone thinking that I didn’t want to use up the battery in case we would need it later. My husband worried that if I fell, he would have no access to the cell phone! We began talking about the fact that the only rescue would be via helicopter. There was no way to carry a person down the mountain. I never worried about dying, but the thought of serious injury did enter my mind when I slipped and heard the pebbles continuing to fall down to the desert floor. But we continued, mainly because there was nothing else that we could do.

When we finally got to the bottom of the steepest descent, we rested and then the rest of the descent seemed easy. Just as we were feeling confident once again, we noticed that there was a railroad track directly in front of us that was at the top of a very steep rise. Only a few minutes later did we discover that there was a pedestrian tunnel underneath. That was the good news. The bad news is that it was built for pygmies. The tunnel was probably five feet high, but after the descent, I literally ran through it bent in half.

When finally we reached the parking lot where the car was located, I believe I rhapsodized about my car in a completely insane manner. But by then I was totally spent.

We stopped in the next town to buy cold drinks.

When finally I caught my breath, I realized that this whole adventure was very much like life. You start out happy and confident. Things are beautiful and easy. You experience some difficulty, but it’s still lovely. And then you get to a point where it gets hard, very hard, and just when you think it can’t get any harder, it does. Then it gets harder yet. You can stop and look around and then you decide you need to go on. You walk along the path, danger on either side. You can be with friends and they are there to share the experience with you. They provide support and protection and comfort, but the journey is still rough. Sometimes the up-hills are the hardest, and sometimes when it seems that things should be easy, that is when they are the most difficult. But when the hard times are over, you feel relieved, grateful, and maybe even proud that you hung in there and made it through.

Throughout the descent, I kept thinking of something that Rav Nachman of Bratslav said: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is not to be at all afraid.”

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