Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers. —Nikita Khrushchev
“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”
My thoughts had already catapulted me off into distant lands so I did not immediately grasp the question, prompting its repeat.
“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now?”
White grocery bags held together in her left hand give her the appearance of possibly being homeless, the glassy sheen to her eyes and her otherwise kept attire indicated a greater probability that at least her body had a home, even if her mind and soul had been dismissed by whatever pharmaceutical cocktail forced her to wander the near lifeless streets of Elgin.
At least she was smiling.
When she repeated the question I mumbled a hasty, “Not today, thank you,” as though I might give her offer more lengthy consideration on some later date. I looked over the crumbling concrete railing at the sludge-brown water of whatever river smirked slowly below. What would she have done had I responded with an enthusiastic, “Sure, you toss me then I’ll toss you!” Internally, some small wrinkle in my brain chuckled at the potential hilarity while the remaining neurons fired away at all the instructions necessary to keep one’s body propelled forward.
Thinking About Bridges
Having time to think opens precarious doors. One’s initial thoughts focus on the inherently obvious and can entertain a logical analysis of known factors. Given sufficient time for processing, though, the mind eventually begins substituting the illogical in place of the logical. Unknown elements replace known factors and before long one inevitably tumbles headlong into conjecture and the impossible world of “what if.” Within such ambiguous territory, fears enjoy free reign, popping up in every concept until they leak past the world of the unknown to pollute the world of the known. Suddenly, nothing seems quite so certain anymore.
Except, there’s still that bridge and it’s potentially life changing offer.
Ever stop to think about bridges? They are fundamental to transportation, or any manner of transition. Bridges represent a desire to leave one place, one existence, one ideal, in favor of another, the two being separated by some form of chasm which cannot otherwise be traversed.
Look carefully at the construction of a bridge and one finds the very structure itself is the definition of change. Such was true even of ancient bridges; on either side of a ravine may be roads or paths of sod, yet the bridge itself must be made of a different material, usually wood or stone. Modern spans of asphalt spread on beds of gravel are bridged by delicately poured concrete under-girded with steel. Engineers would never consider building an entire road from the same material, using the same methods as bridges; the expense alone makes such an idea impractical. As a result, it is almost impossible to cross a bridge that does not invoke change.
What’s On The Other Side
Often, one sets focus solely on whatever lies on the other side of the bridge. After all, whatever exists over there is the reason we cross the bridge in the first place. Yet, what too often catches us by surprise is the change invoked by the bridge itself; a change wholly unlike what waits on the other side.
And in that consideration, that change requires pre-change, the question of a seemingly mentally challenged pedestrian takes on a whole new meaning. “Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”
Here find both cause and solution to failure; it is not that one does not want or fears the change on the other side; but that we are unprepared for the intermediate change of the bridge and, caught up in the panic of the unexpected, we either jump or allow some random crazy person to toss us over. As a result, we end up soaked by the muddy waters of despair, never achieving the change we so ardently desire.
What we fail to realize is that what we experience on the bridge is necessary preparation for what we find on the other side. Bridges are designed to get us there, not stop us in the process. We need what bridges offer.
Lessons From Disney
Granted, some bridges have the innate ability to invoke fear.
In the Disney movie “Shrek,” the ogre and Donkey arrive at the dragon’s castle to find they must cross a less-than-secure looking bridge below which flows a stream of fiery molten lava. Donkey is immediately concerned and, half-way across, is ready to turn around and go back, willing to leave the princess for someone else to rescue. Shrek proceeds to employ distraction tactics and before Donkey realizes what is happening, they both are safely across the bridge.
And what distraction did the giant green ogre use to get donkey across the bridge? The threat of being flung over the side!
Two matters are worth noting in that story. First, it was Donkey’s over-thinking the safety of the bridge that allowed room for the fear to engulf him. Had he simply walked cautiously across the structure he would not have encountered any problem. Second, when paralyzed by fear, we sometimes need the help of a friend threatening to send us over the side before we can get across.
“Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?”
Back In The Real World
Outside the Adams street entrance to Chicago’s Union Station, an older man, his back hunched from the reality of a life lived, sits on a bench and removes from his shirt pocket a pack of Marlboro Lights. His old hands trembling, he removes a cigarette from the pack and lights it. Not a scenario that sounds too terribly unusual, especially given that almost every other bench in the area is occupied by someone else doing exactly the same thing.
What makes this gentleman unique is that, prior to fishing the pack of cigarettes from his pocket, he had to first remove and shut off the oxygen tube from his nose. Every drag on the cigarette was obviously painful and labored. More than once the man winced as he struggled to draw the nicotine down into what little remains of his lungs. When finished, he replaced the tube in his nostrils, turned on the portable oxygen tank strapped to his back, and resumed a more relaxed and comfortable breathing rhythm.
Talk about addictions all you want, ultimately the man couldn’t, wouldn’t, cross the bridge. Crossing the bridge, for him, means putting down the cigarettes and he has made the decision that suffering is preferable to crossing the uncertain path leading to quitting.
Don’t Burn It Yet
We may find it easy to criticize the old man for making such a self-destructing choice, but how often are we guilty of making choices of equal fatality to our careers, our families, our well-being, our happiness, all because there is some bridge, some challenge, some fear that we must first conquer before we can reach our goal?
No significant change happens without some manner of transition. If there were no canyons between the status quo and progress, we might well slide between one state of being and the next without realizing any chance had occurred at all. Yet, it is those muddy rivers, those gullies, the ravines and ditches, that create boundaries, territory markers, and we simply cannot move from one existence to the next without crossing some manner of bridge.
Many of life’s bridges we zip across without care or worry, scarcely even noticing that the ground beneath us has changed. However, as we cross some of the most meaningful bridges of our lives we will often be faced with that now lingering question: “Do you want me to throw you over the bridge now or later?
Perhaps the old woman wasn’t so crazy after all. Something tells me she knows the answer to that question better than any of us.