I stepped up onto the treadmill. I would walk, not run, for three miles and not one bit more. That was as far as I was willing to go.
And because I have to do something to keep me from constantly monitoring my progress – how many miles, how may calories I’ve burned and how hard my heart is working – I gazed out of the window that overlooked the Monroe Street Bridge.
The Spokane River – as it always is this time of year - was wild and roiling, crashing over rocks in a fury of white foam. Swollen with the spring runoff.
It was terrifying and beautiful at the same time.
I looked farther out and noticed a woman get out of a car parked in the graveled space at the north end of the bridge. I watched her step onto the narrow walkway on the side of the bridge and walk in my direction.
I could tell she wasn’t dressed to be out in the wind. Her dress was too light to protect her. It was pretty, but no match for the cool air. She looked like she had just left the office and was on her way home.
She walked until she reached the middle of the bridge and then stopped and turned to look out over the water.
I glanced down. I’d walked a quarter of a mile.
The woman stood for another minute or so and then placed both hands on the concrete wall that protected her. She pushed herself up with her hands, standing on her toes, and my heart lurched.
You never know. People and bridges are a strange mix. Every day most of us walk or drive or bike over a bridge and never give it a thought. But sometimes, some people, well, they don’t make it to the other side. They get to the middle and that’s as far as they can go.
With her hands on the wall, her elbows pointing out to either side of her, she leaned out over the water.
I faltered and missed a step.
Then, she straightened and moved back. Safe.
I relaxed. Three quarters of a mile. I was almost a third of the way.
The cars flying past, crossing from one side of the city to the other, created a breeze that ruffled her hair and lifted the hem of her dress. But she stood as still as a statue, as still and solid as the bridge itself, staring downriver at the western sky, watching the sinking sun paint the clouds with a watery sunset.
Then, the woman lifted her hand – I thought she might be waving to someone - and stretched one arm over the concrete barrier. A single piece of white paper dropped, caught a current of air and soared, dropped and then rose again. It fell the way birds move as they fly, dipping right, then left, and then right again. Floating and soaring. Falling and flying away.
The paper disappeared and was gone.
Slowly, the woman turned to walk back to where she had parked her car. The traffic never slowed as it raced across the bridge in both directions.
She got into her car and drove away.
Two and a quarter miles. And I was left to wonder what might have been on the paper.
She hadn’t thrown it away so much as released it, sending it into the water the way we send prayers and wishes past the sky, through the thin blue line that separates our world from the rest of the universe.
It could have been anything. A letter. A list of promises. A list of old hurts. A record of relinquished dreams.
I’ll never know.
But I think that in the space of time it took me to stride three miles, the woman went much further.
She’d decided what you hold on to, and what you let go.
She had made it to the middle and back again.