There are a lot of bridges where I live. They come in all shapes and sizes, with many reasons for their existence. Some bridges barely take two strides while crossing to the other side, and yet these small structures are placed with great care on manicured lawns so that their owners can visit whichever side’s grass is greenest.
Then there are the rustic, sometimes rickety bridges that one sees when driving down a country lane. Rickety bridges that have seen better days and yet they still serve a purpose. These bridges can form a tangible bond between a farmer and the livestock he tends. They are sometimes seen as the link between the present and the past; a reminder of a time when things are slower and great care is put into something as simple as the building of a country bridge.
And then there are those types of bridges that are almost beyond our capacity to comprehend. Massively expansive structures of concrete and steel, made it seem to last for a lifetime and beyond. The mere thought of such a bridge falling down is as foreign as the concept of a man walking on the moon might have been fifty years ago. There are two such bridges not far from where I live. For over ten years I have traveled every day over one of them and until recently, avoided the other one like the plague.
Henley Street Bridge spans the Tennessee River, linking the bustling activity of the downtown area to the slower pace of the southern part of town. The lanes are spacious with four from which to choose, depending on your destination, and pedestrian paths on either side allowing anyone to delay their crossing to gaze upon the expansive river below.
Each morning and afternoon I take great comfort in crossing that bridge; in the knowledge that once I cross to the other side I am either minutes from either a career I enjoy passionately or moments away from returning to my personal sanctuary. But to me, the Gay Street Bridge is like the Henley Street Bridge’s smaller, evil twin. Its two lanes are narrow and the river seems to lurk menacingly close by as if ready to grab an unsuspecting victim and pull them to the murky waters below.
Truth be told, I fear that bridge. For me, it has become in my mind the sum of all the greater obstacles crossing my path in my lifetime. That bridge has become my own personal dragon that for over ten years I am too afraid to challenge. But all that changes one cold and dreary January morning two years ago. It is announced that the Henley Street Bridge will be torn down in order for a more modern, structure to take its watchful place over the river. This proclamation leaves me forced to face what I had been avoiding all these years; namely, THE BRIDGE!
Can you imagine the pulsating fear I feel the first day I detour around my beloved Henley Street Bridge to come face to face with my tormentor? The only thing standing between work and me is that bridge. The only thing preventing my complete peace of mind is that bridge. With knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel, I creep across the Gay Street Bridge, eyes fearfully darting here and there at the dark waters below until I reach the other side.
I have literally held my breath the whole way across and it feels good to draw a steadying breath as I leave the evil twin behind me. Now if I can only find another way home at the end of the day. But there isn’t one and my fearful crossing repeats itself hours later when I find myself taking slow cautious steps to make it over the bridge in one piece and return to the safety of my home.
It’s funny now when I look back and a bit sad even to realize what power I gave to steel and stone. To hand over my spirit to a man made object as if I have so little self-worth except when held in its evil clutches. I cannot say that I have completely gotten over my fear of crossing that bridge. But I have since learned to appreciate what the Gay Street Bridge unexpectedly brought to my life. If I hadn’t been forced to cross that bridge, I never would have faced my irrational fear. I have realized that everyday routines can make us too comfortable with our lives and being too comfortable increases the chance we will begin to fear what lies on the other side of our everyday routines. We become unwilling, even unable, to take that first leap of faith into the unknown.
For myself, I have somewhat tamed my dragon and defeated the evil twin’s fearful grip on me. In the process, I also managed to discover a world beyond my previously comfortable existence. This is a world that beckons me to come and see what lies on the other side of fear. And for that I will always be thankful for THE BRIDGE.