01 January 2009


The current talk about jump-starting the economy by rebuilding infrastructure has got me thinking about bridges. And asking some questions. 

Marvelous constructions, bridges. They get us from here to there, right? Help us move forward? Not always. A few images come to mind:

Natural bridge

I am nine or so. My family is camping in Kentucky. We are great campers and hikers, all seven of us, along with our dog Buddy. We hike a nature trail that includes a stone arch formed by wind erosion. It spans an abyss. The path goes right down the middle of it—no fence, no handrails. My mother forbids us kids to set foot on it. She likes strong boundaries, fears blurry edges, needs something to hang on to. My father grins, strides out to the center of the rock arch with Buddy. My teenaged sisters follow him. Before I can move, Mom grabs me and my younger brothers. Dad finally convinces her to let us go and, what’s more, coaxes her to join him and us. She totters forward, sinks to her knees, crawls the rest of the way, panting, gasping for air.//

Highway bridge

December, a year ago. My workplace sits alongside the Mississinewa River. I arrive one snowy morning to find tracks where a car has shot off the bridge and down the steep bank. It landed a few feet from my boss’ office window, backed up, and took off across the lawn. Thirty minutes later another car slides on the bridge, crosses the road, plunges down the embankment opposite us. My supervisor Tonya dashes out and up the snowy bank in high heels, no coat. She returns with her arm around a woman who is white-faced, shaking. As Tonya ushers her into the warmth of the boss’ office, we hear a loud crash. A third vehicle spins off the bridge and into the yard. Bits of metal, plastic and glass, a duffel bag, a red and white jacket, sunglasses dot the lawn. Tonya is off again, yanks at the driver’s door. No go. She runs to the passenger’s side. Out climbs a young woman, her face and hands bloodied. Next a young man. “My dad is going to kill me; my dad is going to kill me,” he says. His new car was an early Christmas gift, delivered yesterday.

One-log bridges

Twelve years ago. The summer after my wife and I separate, I move to a small apartment near the White River. On our side of the river long trails wind through wild woods and over a small stream by way of single log bridges. My children and I spend many hours there during our times together. We call it Sherwood Forest. My eldest son plays Robin Hood, his twin brothers Will Scarlet and Little John. I am cast as Sheriff of Nottingham. The implications do not escape me.

Charred bridges

Two years ago. I walk out of a hospital room in Joplin, Missouri and away from my family of origin. The message I hear yet again from my siblings, even from my dying mother: “We love you, but because you’re gay, we do not accept you as a member of this family.”  Something finally snaps. I refuse to swallow that poison one more time. I don’t care if I burn every bridge behind me. I’ve had enough—more than enough. I’m out of here. On the day-long drive home, my husband and I stop at a museum. I weep to see an ancient pottery vessel shaped like a woman holding a baby. It depicts the traditional bond between mother and child, a bond that is broken for me. I ignore my mother’s subsequent phone calls, do not attend her funeral.

Some questions about infrastructure

As we enter the new year, here are some questions I ask myself, and invite you to consider, as well:

Where in my life’s path have I been asked to step though fear? What was my response? How did it serve me?

Along life’s journey, what people, events or circumstances brought me to a sudden halt? What did I learn? How can I apply past lessons to present challenges?

What role do I play in creating my own perceptions of reality? How does my view of the world hold me back, help me move ahead?

What bridges have I burned behind me? How have such actions helped me, hurt me? Is there any bridge repair work I wish to do? What might this entail? Where and when will I begin?

This essay first appeared in The Letter, January 2009