Old Man at the Bridge

Old Man at the Bridge

“‘Old Man at the Bridge’! Ernest Hemingway’s stories are intriguing for me” I waved a book which had a collection of Hemingway stories to Lulu, my parrot. “And yet I like them”

“Oh, he is my favourite author too” Lulu hopped closer to me. “And ‘Old Man at the Bridge’ is one of his shortest stories. He was a man of few words. Quite literally!”

“Really? What do you mean?”

“Yes. Hemingway was once asked to write a short story in six words. Just six words! Hemingway wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” He packed so much meaning! Great man. Why did you think of him?”

“I just read his story ‘Old man at the Bridge.’ It set me thinking. Something touched inside. I do not know what is that; I cannot explain. He describes a scene, a conversation with an old man who has walked twelve kilometers leaving behind his cat, pigeons, and goats. He is worried about their survival as the enemy’s army is advancing – it is a Spanish Civil War situation – and he had to leave them behind and walk away.”

“That’s all?”

“Yes, that is all! When I read it, I felt that there was something in this story which weighed on my mind. I could not figure out what it was.”

“Tell me more about it”

“The old man is tired; he has walked twelve kilometers and he is sitting on a bridge. He keeps thinking about his cat, pigeons, and goats. He says the cat will take care of itself; pigeons will fly away but what will happen to others. The old man is worried about them”

“Interesting! Goats are sacrificial animals; pigeons are symbols of peace. Put this in the context of the advancing army of the enemy and the scene comes alive.”

“So true, but why should it touch me?”

“That you alone can answer. Maybe, you seem to identify with the old man. You are an old man yourself! Ha ha!!”

“Yes, Lulu. I am well past seventy now. Seventy-three to be precise.”

“You think you are on the bridge, tired and unwilling to move while enemy’s army is moving toward the bridge? Oh, this is all so symbolic!”

“I have that feeling”

“The old man left behind his cat, pigeons, and goats. What will you be leaving behind in the hands of the enemy?”

“That is the point – what will I be leaving behind in the hands of the enemy. I will be leaving behind people who are dear to me, people I care about, people I love. The enemy is Time; it is their future. And I won’t be there to look after them”

“Oh! Your voice is trembling. Do not get so emotional. It is all in your mind. And time is not always an enemy. They will not suffer like prisoners of war”

“I feel too few days are left. And I do not know if I have taught them how to survive in this bad, bad world”

“You were interviewing yesterday a person who came from a poor family but he is a successful person today; he is contented man. Do you remember what he said?”

“Yes, he said that there were a few situations when he was asked to do something unconscionable. Though he was a man of modest means he trusted his inner voice and declined to do whatever he was asked to do. He chose the difficult path, but came out of the situation with unscathed conscience.”

“Therein lies the answer. Just tell them this story. And ask them to trust their inner voice when they face a dilemma. That is the lesson to be taught. That is the message. There is nothing more you can do; nothing more needs to be done.”

“Hmmmmm ….”

“Some of your loved ones may be like the old man’s cat. They will take care of themselves. Others can survive the onslaught of difficult times only by listening to their inner voice. The story resonated with your concerns, right?”

“I guess you are be right, Lulu”

“Osho puts it well, “Start trusting your inner feelings. …  And if it is a question of choosing between the inner feeling and the fear, choose the inner feeling. Don’t choose the fear. So many people have chosen their path out of fear, so they live in a limbo, they live in indecision. … Fear always means the fear of being lost—but if you really want to be alive, you have to accept the possibility of being lost. You have to accept the insecurity of the unknown, the discomfort and the inconvenience of the unfamiliar, the strange. That is the price one has to pay for the blessing that follows it, and nothing can be achieved without paying for it. You have to pay for it: Otherwise, you will remain fear-paralyzed. Your whole life will be lost. Enjoy whatsoever your inner feeling is.”

Lulu brushed his head on my shoulder to comfort me, hopped on to my hand and looked at me.

Pic courtesy: Old Man – Pixabay.