I am riding a bike over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. In a typical year there are nearly 41 million people that cross the bridge. It is a classic Fall day with fog that comes and goes, playing peek-a-boo, hiding the entire bridge and then revealing the orange-vermillion icon like a postcard. I struggle to get a picture.
I stop in the middle to look over the edge. There is a phone booth near the middle; a suicide hot line, which I think is probably too little too late, but then again, if it saved one life it was probably worth it. Each year nearly 20 people jump to their death from this platform.
As I look over the rail to the water below the boy in me is tempted to spit or toss something over the edge; you know, count how long it would take to hit or disappear. The water is over 220 feet below me. I resist the temptation and feel quite pleased with myself; my too kind and loving wife would be relieved to see that occasionally the designated grown up inside of me does actually win out.
I have been fascinated by bridges for many years. The engineer in me likes the beauty and function of a bridge: it connects or reduces the distance between two points. It allows you to get across physical obstacles such as rivers and canyons that you might otherwise not be able to traverse. It makes it easier for you to get from here to there. I am fascinated that the main cables contain nearly 80,000 miles of woven wire, are 36 inches in diameter and took six months to weave.
I started taking pictures of bridges this summer. The bridges vary from small wooden foot bridges that cross creeks to the Golden Gate Bridge that I consider an engineering masterpiece. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world for nearly 30 years, now it ranks ninth. One of my favorite bridges is the one that crosses White Canyon, San Juan County.
What I find most interesting is the metaphor of a bridge. The word and concept applies equally to the physical and non-physical worlds. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to have “people-bridges” in our lives; they allow us to get somewhere or become someone that we otherwise might not be able to do on our own. I have had a few teachers in my life that seemed to bring me from complete ignorance to some level of enlightenment. In high school, Mr. Rowley somehow saw in me more than I saw in myself; because for a kid that couldn’t factor his way out of a polynomial, I eventually became an engineer, I dunno.
Maybe music or poetry or words on a page function as a bridge and reduce the distance between two people, two nations, or two generations. How many couples have a favorite song that brings enough emotional baggage to fill a warehouse?
Why are so many books filled with sayings about bridges? Burning bridges, building bridges, “we‘ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Bridges are different than windows, doors, and ladders. Windows only allow you to look out upon a scene, a door allows entrance or can shut someone out, but a bridge is so much more; it allows movement and flow; it traverses across hazards, it allows egress and ingress; well placed a bridge easily spans a canyon, allowing those who use the bridge to go places they could have never gone and see things and experience things that were lost or unavailable.
We have to decide which bridges to strengthen, which ones to burn, which new ones will we build? Look around I’ll bet there are bridges, real and metaphorical in your life that have helped you get where you are. There are many in mine.