Even though he is by his own admission a prominent scofflaw in our small town, I know very little about Robert. I know only that he plants himself fairly frequently midway across the Central Avenue bridge and stands there for hours with his ten-foot cross. I’m guessing that’s the height of the cross. For sure, it’s big.
That bridge is a good site for messaging. It connects the east, or Indian reservation side of town, with the west, or non-reservation side. The bridge spans the Okanogan River, which bisects our town and is the reservation boundary. Every once in a while, if people want to demonstrate or publicize something—like a protest march against the Dakota Pipeline some months ago—they’ll line up on the bridge with their signs. My dogs and I frequently walk across the bridge on our way to the East Side Park. We walk on the upriver side of the bridge to avoid crossing two lanes of traffic. Robert is on the downriver side of the bridge because, I suspect, that sidewalk is broader. People can more easily walk around him and his cross.
Because traffic usually is heavy and noisy, Robert and I merely wave to each other as the dogs and I pass by. One time, though, there were no vehicles on the bridge. In the silence, Robert called across to me: “You need to remember just two things!”
“Yes?” I responded.
“First, love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind,” he answered, “and second …”
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” I joined him in his shortened version of Jesus’ message. He smiled approvingly. The dogs and I kept walking.
Another time when traffic noise was missing, Robert called out: “I’m breaking the law, but no one seems to care.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
Grinning, he pointed to the sign posted above my head: NO FISHING FROM BRIDGE.
“Ah,” I said. “And you’re fishing for souls.” His smile admitted as much.
I don’t know if there’s a limit on how many souls a person is allowed to catch, with or without a license. But judging from the number of folks who drive by Robert with a friendly wave and horn toot, and judging from the number of teens I’ve seen give him a high-five as they walk past, and judging from the occasional passersby who I see stop to talk with him, Robert could be close to limiting out.