I’ve never been much for logic riddles, but I heard one yesterday courtesy of another episode of Joan of Arcadia, that frustrated me. The riddle poses: If a man weighing 190 pounds and carrying 3 boxes each weighing 5 pounds must cross a bridge which can sustain only 200 pounds, how does he do it? With his own weight and that of the boxes totaling 205 pounds, more than the bridge’s limit, he must be clever and diligent in his solution.
The answer: He juggles the boxes so that he never holds more than 2 at a time and therefore never carries more than the bridge can hold resulting in his safe arrival at the other end.
The metaphor: The bridge represents the life we travel and the boxes are our emotions, stresses, joys, problems, and so on. The idea is that we just need to keep juggling while we travel the bridge of life to reach the other side. It’s a good riddle and maybe even a decent metaphor until another box is thrown in: grief.
Some will say that grief is a part of that journey over the bridge, part of life, and normally I would agree. But I’ve spoken with far too many people who’ve lost children and siblings to say that this type of loss is a “normal” part of life. We expect loss of loved ones who are old; we know it’s coming. We may even expect loss of younger souls because of prolonged illness, but when someone dies “out of turn” with what’s expected, there’s a fourth box added to the juggling and because of it, the bridge changes substantially.
This new box isn’t another 5 pounds; it’s another 10 because it easily outweighs any other pain, stress, problem that’s contained in the first 3 boxes. All of a sudden you are still forced to cross a bridge that sustains 200 pounds, but now you have to juggle 4 boxes weighing more than you ever imagined possible.
The result: It’s almost impossible to keep 2 boxes in the air while you hold 2 during your juggling. And even if you can sustain the motion, inevitably you will end up holding the 10 pound box and a 5 pound box simultaneously which is more than the bridge can hold. With each step a piece of that bridge crumbles, a piece of life’s journey crumbles away at your feet. But you can’t stop it because you are desperately juggling and all your energy is needed for that. Instead, you watch bits of your life, your relationships, your self worth, your judgement, your existence fall off the bridge in chunks, and you wonder if any of it can be rebuilt now that it’s fallen away. As the days pass, a bit more erodes from the bridge.
No days are actually good. How can any day be deemed as good when a portion of it is always spent crying, hurting, and longing? But some days are better than others, like the days when you’re able to juggle faster than you thought. But even with those “better” days there is always the knowledge that the grief box is only hovering above your head for seconds before it crashes into your hand and the bridge under you crumbles a little bit more from the weight.
I have no idea how long my bridge is, no idea how long it will take me to get to the other side, but I do know that I doubt on many days that I will be able to reach it before the bridge completely collapses beneath my feet. As time passes since Melinda’s death, the faster I seem to have to juggle. I’m tired of juggling; I’m tired of being off balance each time the weight of that grief box lands, and I’m tired of trying to figure out what each day and each tomorrow should look like. In over 20 months, I haven’t felt the pain soften. I haven’t stopped asking why. I haven’t stopped screaming out Melinda’s name trying to call her back to me, and I haven’t figured out what I’m supposed to do now, but I keep juggling.
When I think about how much I hurt and multiply it by just the number of people I’ve met with the same pain, I don’t know how the world doesn’t simply collapse on itself. When I think about the many others whom I’ll never meet who suffer as I do, I don’t understand how the world even revolves from the weight of the grief.
The riddle frustrated me because it was just too simple of an answer. Just juggle.