Have you ever looked out your car window at a passing bridge, one of those old, rickety metal bridges that seem to expand endlessly into the distance? No longer in use, the framework stands in a misty haze above a water passageway, suggesting a once celebrated connection between one place to another, but now merely standing vacant, dormant.
Are there places in your life that reflect the forgotten life of such a bridge? Those connections between people and places that were once alive and meaningful, but today waver on non-existence or avoidance? Are there chapters of your life that you attempt to annex to a distanct place, never to reach again, because of the feelings of anger or resentment that they bring up? Are there relationships in your life where unresolved conflict prevents you from engaging in a life-giving way?
Our lives are full of dead bridges, those parts of our life that we attempt to restrict or sever, to claim as “un-navigable” and “closed due to construction.” However, those dead bridges don’t merely disappear - they continue to exist as a heavy and often morose reminder of something lost. Moreover, those dead brides that go along unattended become rusty and damaged, by wind and ice, the metal creaking and withering. These once powerful, though imperfect, expressions of human connection and potential become a structural hazard.
By recognizing the areas and relationships in our life that are inconsistent with our values and ethic of living, we are able to find more stable ground as we become increasingly conscious and self-aware. It is at this point that we can ask ourselves which bridges have the capacity for mending while at the same time addressing the root of their decay.
But how does one navigate this precarious space between cautious engagement and fervent non-engagement ?
My spiritual director has consistently reminded me that self-differentiation does not necessarily mean separation. Although, in some cases, that is the safest and most responsible choice. But in other cases, creating space between self and others can be done in a way that maintains our autonomy, our "bottom line" for meaningful and healthy relationship, while still opening ourselves up to functional interaction. Some call it boundaries, I've landed on "lived distance," and within that liminal space is the possibility, though at times faint, of genuine relationship.
But, as women, it is important to remember that we are often expected to relinquish our boundaries for the benefit of others and detriment to ourselves. Social conditioning of the people-pleasing, self-sacrificial female runs deep, even within progressive family systems and societal structures. As we assess our own boundaries and capacity for relationship with others, it's important that we also remain vigilant of the narratives we've absorbed throughout our life as it relates to setting and maintaining our own protective hedging.
Whatever dead bridges remain in your life, they can often be a looming and debilitating presence. And while some need to be acknowledged for the wreckage they are and discarded in order to keep you safe, others call out to us reminding us of the many facets of our lives together. It is these bridges, those with the potential for renovation, that are sacred and deserving of our attention.
Might these bridges be carefully assessed for elements of structural integrity. And if you consider them strong enough, resilient enough to bear the weight of our humanity, might they be gradually reclaimed, not in the same form or for the same purpose, but re-purposed like an industrial bridge meant for speeding trains turned into a slow-paced walking bridge, overlooking a river that is always flowing, always changing.