The Bridge Builders

There once was a bridge…

I have this image stuck in my head of a mighty and impassable river carving over the millennia a hole into the side of a mountain. Simultaneously, that mountain, being made of soft stone, would erode and flatten. The ground over which this violent river flowed would sink lower and lower, carving a deep and jagged canyon. Left behind would be a natural bridge hovering far above this chasm, preserved by Elohim, Mother Earth, and the remarkable coincidences of the universe so that humans could pass.

Somewhere along the way, the bridge was destroyed. It’s unclear how the bridge was initially destroyed, but they imagine there was a time where humans must have seen and made known what existed on both sides of the bridge because many preach that there is something “more than and beyond what we see.” And these people returned to the canyon’s edge determined to rebuild this bridge. These people had a tendency to know each other as family at introduction. So they worked, lived, played, dreamed, mourned, celebrated, struggled, laughed, and dismayed together as they pursued the common goal of building this bridge to whatever the heck is on the other side with a deep trust and hope that it’s gonna be something good.

Seeing the value and vision of this shared work, more would invest in building this bridge. Some would add their hands and words, some their wealth and resources; but all gave with their passionate belief in Ubuntu: “I am because we are.”

Just as they nearly see this bridge built and mission complete, those who stand to profit from an unchanging world take notice, and then do as those who stand to profit from an unchanging world are compelled to do. These people with families of their own likely believe their cause is noble, but they do so as they marvel at the commendable order of things that they solely built and are proud to maintain. As such, they must wage wars of power and fear in all places — in the hidden offices that no one can reach, in the words and images that are presented for all to see, and in public spaces where they know they are protected — in order to protect “us from ourselves” or cynically “them from us.” These people frequently seek attempts to make people afraid, indifferent, or helpless because the afraid, indifferent, and helpless are easier to manipulate through provisions.

Those building the bridge saw communities learn to value choices the most when it’s purchased. Their children were learning the value of their voices as unquestionably weak unless it’s directed like a single bullet at a single individual. From a young age, they would learn that compassion is achieved by simply not getting in the way.

Something remarkable would happen. The bridge would be built and destroyed over and over again. Yet, each iteration would reveal something new (an idea; a path) or, better yet, someone new (a champion; an ally). As they saw the number of builders grow and ideas flow smoothly-enough, they would measure their progress by how many hammers swing and voices speak. They would sense it in the spirit of innovation, creativity, and connectedness that always welcomed them. It was mostly beautiful.

The hardest part of their mission would never be in starting over, again. They would do this each time with a renewed belief that they must continue on because they must continue on. The hardest part feels like the cold dagger of Brutus, recurring each time the bridge builders must confront familiar faces and sometimes loved ones who come to the bridge to remove a nail and break a board, or, on occasion, plant dynamite. It is over this that they and I will lose sleep or hope, and can be found saying “it’s too much.”

I wonder more frequently than I care to admit whether I am and if I have it in me to be a bridge builder for the rest of my life. I’m only 28, and I already can’t count the number of emotional daggers I’ve removed, placed there by friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, community members, people I thought were friends, people I’m “giving to”, and some really strange complete strangers. I wonder how many next steps I will take before I become fatigued and must stop. I wonder how many breadths believing that new beginnings are possible I will breadth before I want to keep them to myself. I wonder how many times I will be lost or diverted. I wonder if anyone will be able to guide me back to my unique path once I am lost. I’ve seen my mentors in the “fight” carry themselves with grace, but they would also tell me this fear I am feeling, this image I have in my head right now will never leave me as long as I fancy myself a bridge builder. I must resolve to continue, despite what it may or may not mean, precisely because I believe this bridge must be built.

I looked up this old Frederick Buechner quote I recalled while reflecting, where he says “Justice also does not preclude mercy. It makes mercy possible. Justice is the pitch of the roof and the structure of the walls. Mercy is the patter of rain on the roof and the life sheltered by the walls. Justice is the grammar of things. Mercy is the poetry of things” (from Wishful Thinking).

It is sobering to think that, in terms of societal justice, we have not yet built the bridge, let alone the house that shelters life with mercy. I imagine that’s about how far we have yet to go. I hope I will be able to remember this and not be discouraged by it. Because even though I don’t anticipate seeing Buechner’s vision within my lifetime, I do hope to be among those who tried to build this (damn!) bridge that we’re all trying to cross.