It was any other Thursday evening. I was taking an afternoon run and chose to take the suspension bridge route. It offers more to look at and that means hopefully more to distract me from my failing stamina. I was about halfway across the bridge and sweating so much it probably looked like I had gone for swim in the river. It was then that a man called out to me loud enough that I could hear over the music in my headphones, “Hey can you take a picture of me?” I pulled an ear-bud out and nodded, panting and slightly relieved for an excuse for a break.
He handed me his phone for the photo and I noticed his knuckles were white and tight from clenching the side rail lining the bridge.
“I have to get a picture to prove to my family I did it. They wouldn’t believe me if I told them.” He smiled and shuffled his feet while obviously averting his eyes from the brownish water 100 feet below.
As I talked with him more I learned he was afraid of bridges and today standing almost-half-the-way across one was big deal for him, as it should be.
“If you stand over there, I can get the stadium in the background,” I offered, pointing to spot.
A sudden wind ruffled his oversized grey t-shirt and he glanced down at the sound of racing jet skis on the water below us. “Thanks, but this is as far as I’m going out today. I just want my family to see how far I’ve come.”
I felt myself release a breath I never realized I was holding and I smiled as the man gleamed proudly for his photo. His right hand was still securely clenched to the rail. He thanked me.
“No problem,” I said with a smile as I replaced the ear-bud and started running again. But I should have thanked him. I should have thanked him for reminding me of the wonderful resilience of the human spirit. The desire we have to conquer what ails us, to be brave and celebrate every step along the way. Whether we are young or old, we all have that beautiful tenacity, that will to overcome what we need to in our lives.
And maybe that is what we all really want, to be brave and have someone who cares enough to witness and validate the journey.
Sometimes the most important way we can support people in our lives is simply being their witness, reflecting what we see back to them, accepting them as they are, and always believing in their resilience and capacity for positive change and growth.
So get out there. Face something. Overcome something. And most importantly, witness and celebrate others as they do the same.