Bridges have long been a metaphor for many things in life.
I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
It’s all water under the bridge.
Let every man praise the bridge that carries him over.
Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.
The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn.
Let the bridges I have burned light my way.
He/She burned that bridge.
Ah yes, burned that bridge. Over the years I have learned there are many ways to burn bridges and there is something to be learned from each one. It all starts with how the fire is set.
There is the slow and smoldering burn. It is the one that starts accidentally, silently, as if a stray ash has drifted into the aging and dry terrain of an old friendship. It warms and feeds itself slowly until the ever so gentle tendril of smoke can be seen from afar. And oftentimes, both people see it, standing on opposite sides of the bridge. They know it is there quietly building under the weeds. But neither one puts it out. No one talks about it, or steps closer to see it, to see what has started it and if they can stop it. By the time it is a flame, there is so much distance to cross you wonder if it is worth it, can you get there before it’s too late? And then it is. Too late I mean. The bridge a skeleton of its former self, and your friendship is the same. It’s still there, but there is no strength, no substance and with a good strong wind, both will disappear.
An open burn is more likely to be seen as it ignites. An unkind word, a slight offense, it can be unintentional, or even accidentally on purpose. But we can see it from where we stand-the little orange glow that is forming on the bridge. The one that burns red hot when the wind blows or words fly. It is a choice, to save that bridge. It is hard work and you have to be willing to get messy, and maybe even hurt-burned. Most will try to put it out by dousing it with apologies, excuses, rationale and reasoning. But sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes it in our panic to put it out we say the wrong things, we grab the gasoline instead of the water. And then there it goes. Whoosh. The bridge goes down, pieces and chunks splashing into the water below while the two of you stand on opposite shores wondering how in the world it happened. How did it get so far so fast? And sadly, mournfully, you look at the debris and watch it float away, shrug your shoulders and move on.
Of course, some bridges are burned on purpose. Life is full of little arsonists, people that thrive on the drama, feed off the energy. They watch the flames and feel the power of it, they live off it, breathe off it. The fire can be set-meticulously crafted with kindling and leaves, little dry bits of gossip and lies that when piled together craft the perfect funeral pyre on which to end a friendship. Sometimes it is just a thought, a nag, until the day it isn’t. Until something snaps and in a haste of hateful words and accusations, a torch is thrown and the unmistakable roar is all you can hear as the fire takes on a life of its own. The flames are mirrored in the eyes of the arsonist, who slinks back into the crowd and wonders aloud with all the bystanders how this could have happened. But they know. Inside they know.
I’m not going to lie; I have had a few go up in smoke. In which manner-I’ll keep that to myself. But the choice afterward was whether or not to sift through the debris. Whether or not I should take to the shore and look at the flotsam and jetsam. Really look at it. Grab a piece and touch it, sit with it, smell it. I own that piece. With each fire that burns, there is a story to tell, a lesson to be learned and I am part of it. It happened to me, I was there, and I will never be the same-and the choice I have now is to learn. We all have that choice.
I am not innocent by any means, nor am I perfect. But I have learned to own my parts, my debris, my kindling and my matches. I have even gone as far as to offer apologies where they were needed, long after the fire was out and the bridge a distant memory. What was the worst that could happen? Nothing? So be it. If I try and fail, then I can set those charred remains aside and move on. I can only sort through my own mess, not someone else’s. But at least I know that by sitting on that shore and watching the replay, grabbing a beam or brace that is burnt beyond recognition and really looking at it for answers, that the bridges in my future will be stronger. Much, much stronger.