Crossing the Bridge…Or Not

“Behind each face there is a unique world that no one can see. This is the mystery of individuality. The shape of each soul is different. No one else feels your life the way you do. No one else sees or hears the world as you do…Such care and attention went into the creation of each person.”

“To refuse to begin can be an act of great self-neglect.”   -John O’Donohue , To Bless the Space Between Us

How many times do we get to make a choice about the direction our life will take? Surely more times than we can count! I’m thinking that it can begin as young as 18 months when we declare our first emphatic, “No!!” In an ideal world, it ends when our last breath is exhaled.

There are times when the choices get made by others. Every grade that we get in school moves us forward or keeps us stuck in place. Any move by our parents to another place means that we move, too. But as time goes by, we gain more and more freedom to choose our future life ourselves if we only pay attention and have the courage to go there.

It always means crossing bridges from one place to another.

It always means making the choice of whether to be brave or afraid.

My husband, Dwight, was an outdoorsman, growing up in a family full of hunters who made provision for the winter. I saw him once confront a grown bear who had wandered up a hill from the creek and into our yard. As I screamed at him to get into the house, he kept shooing it away. This was either a courageous moment or a crazy dumb one! When the bear stood on its hind legs, appearing even more gigantic, Dwight stood his ground. In time, Bear stood down, circled the old outhouse, shook its head from side to side and slowly exited down the hill with a look of disdain. Courageous won out. Dwight beamed.

However, Dwight was terrified of one thing: bridges. White knuckle terrified. The 6.51-mile-long Sunshine Skyway Bridge that we had to cross to visit my dad in St. Petersburg, Florida each year (430 feet tall at its highest) was a time of silence and a pervading panic. But he never let me drive it. He’d stared down a bear, after all.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Then in 2010, we approached the Pont de Normandie bridge in northern France, which reaches a height of 705 feet at its highest point (think half as tall as the Empire State Building!). I don’t know if Dwight even breathed all the way across. He had no choice…I couldn’t drive a stick shift! There has never been a longer 1-1/3 miles.

The Pont de Normandie Bridge

We all have our bridges to cross. Some of them we can refuse. Some of them we can choose. Some of them will be life-giving. Some of them will be foolhardy. Some will terrify us. All of them will teach us important lessons. Some will teach us how to breathe again. All will be life changing.

Meeting up with the bridges that will take us to another place is a given, over and over again. We can have a bravado that cheers each new big, beautiful one and take off to find the next destination. Or we can stand there in abject terror and decide to slam on the brakes and turn back to what we know, to what is familiar. We are the only one who can decide.

“You’ll never get what you truly deserve if you remain attached to what you’re supposed to let go of.” Paul Boynton, Begin With Yes

Once we reach our 50’s, the bridges start to look different. We look back on where we’ve been and begin to realize that the time ahead is no longer guaranteed. Not that it ever really was, but now we can be pretty sure that most of us have lived more than half our lives. And we can begin to forget how to breathe. We can now pursue the bridges that will make life less terrifying and more fascinating – while there is still time and energy and hope for a good old age. Or we can avoid them.

It’s turning into white knuckle time, and no one else is going to take the wheel and get us across the ones we might need to, have to, or want to cross. More than ever, we need to rely on what our Spirit has taught us up to now. And whether we’ve been paying attention along the way.

Once we reach the 70’s and 80’s, things change again. Now the time definitely grows short. Maybe very short. Physical and mental challenges now begin to arrive big time. We discover just how much we have learned about being brave. And we feel and hear and see the world through glasses and hearing aids, canes and walkers – yet even now, the wonder that was youth shows up now and then, too.

We’re still working on that breathing thing, but it’s gotten easier because we know now that we’ve always made it over the bridges that we chose to take. And that’s when the past becomes grace. When the lessons that the bridges have taught us come to surround us now with their tender companionship.

We know. We know there are bridges we must cross.

It becomes time to make peace with all that.

We breathe now with the assurance that life will send us the ones we need.

And lead us across.

And I’m okay with that.


(Photo credit: Klara Vovy, watercolor artist)