Kathy Baker: The majesty of bridges

Bridges have always fascinated me. Their construction amazes me. How can they be so fragile-looking and yet so strong? Impressive feats of engineering and construction have created structures that are both practical and elegant, yet the first bridges were simply tree trunks laid across a stream. It seems that humans have always sought ways to connect one place to another.

Once in a while, when I drive over the “new” Fairchild Avenue bridge in Kent, I remember its predecessor, the Crain Avenue bridge. I grew up on Crain Avenue and crossed that bridge daily when walking to what was then Davey Junior High School. I will never forget a cold, snowy December day in 1964, when the old bridge collapsed. That was one of the two or three occasions in my lifetime that my dad actually gave me a ride to school. As we crossed safely onto Mantua Street that day, we noticed a tanker truck waiting to turn onto the bridge. Unfortunately, it became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, its weight causing the old bridge to collapse.

I often think of another bridge, the metaphorical one in the old Simon & Garfunkel tune, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” We included this song at my mother’s funeral, and it still reminds me of her. As most mothers do, she smoothed the troubled waters in our lives, helping us resolve sibling spats, boosting us up when our confidence faltered, helping us gain a foothold on knowledge and wisdom, showing us how to take one more step on the road from childhood to adulthood.

She also taught us how to bridge any perceived gaps between ourselves and others, by letting us learn from watching her extend time, patience, forgiveness and forbearance to others. These qualities, we learned, help to melt away differences, improve communication and soothe ruffled feathers.

I wonder, in weak moments, if our country is a bridge in danger of collapsing, like that old Crain Avenue span. It seems that our culture has become very polarized. We are a land of strong, resilient people; it just seems that lately we are using our strength to oppose one another instead of holding on to each other, reaching out to one another.

And yet, I refuse to believe that the things that divide us are stronger than those that unite us. If I look more deeply, I can find many ways that we are still connected. Perhaps, though, we, like bridges, might need some maintenance to stay strong. That old Crain Avenue bridge failed because it was overdue for replacement and the funds weren’t available to fix it. I think we as a people can “fix” our divisions by administering a long overdue dose of TLC (tender loving care) to ourselves and to each other. Because, like the spans of iron and steel that connect Point A to Point B, we are dependent on each other.

There’s plenty of evidence to show us the way. There is hope all around us. I see strangers paying for someone else’s groceries. I see parents teaching their children to be kind to others. I see a man putting his hand on another man’s shoulder at a funeral, saying without words, “I’m here for you.” I see a young woman helping an older lady who is struggling to pick up something she dropped in a store aisle.

Getting along isn’t — cannot become — a “bridge too far.” There’s actually just one bridge, and we are all standing on it. We can make it more comfortable, standing here together, if we can recognize that we have so much more in common than whatever might seem to set us apart. We can do small things to connect, even if it is simply exchanging a word here and there. Everyone needs to feel heard or understood or loved. Don’t you?

Just as we reach out to help a friend bridge the gap over a difficult passage, we can reach out to those we don’t know, or even those we don’t like. The smallest steppingstone, the most fragile bond, can make a very big difference in others’ lives — and in our own.

Isn’t that what a bridge does? It allows us to pass, to make progress. Bridges can span mountains, rivers or cities. Perhaps the strongest, most impressive spans, however, are those that link us to our fellow humans. Extending our hearts and hands to one another will build a framework of peace and understanding capable of transforming the world. And it would create the strongest, most magnificent bridge ever built. Come, take my hand.

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Kathy Baker is a writer and speaker, a messenger of encouragement who loves to touch hearts and tickle souls with her work. She is the author of “Leaving Adversity Plaza,” and “A Tale of Three Choices: His, Hers, Mine.” She loves hearing from her readers and can be reached at [email protected].