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In appreciation of bridges

I live near a canal connected to the Sacramento River. At a few points on the pathway next to it, small footbridges cross the canal, and they make lovely places to photograph the water and trees and birds along the sides. Standing on one of those bridges to watch the sun rising or setting gives me a perfect vantage point. But the real power of those bridges is that they take me from one side of the canal to the other. They make my journey easier.

When I was 11, my much older brother married a woman named Alice. Because she was a little shy, and my family were all big talkers, she and I would often end up playing a game or something else that took us out of the fray. She and my brother eventually had two children—now grown with grown kids of their own. Alice and my brother were married for a dozen years or longer, before they divorced, but she and the kids remained close to my parents and me. In many ways, she was more of a sister to me than he had been a brother, and our lives intersected many times over the years. I don’t see her often, but I know deeply that she is always there—as I hope she knows about me.

They make the journey safer and they help us get from one place where we might feel a little stuck to another, where we can move more freely.

The thing about Alice is that she was a significant bridge for me. At those clamorous family events, I was always drawn to her calm and quiet presence. We could laugh and be silly, but in a real way, she took me seriously—the way we do with kids if can see them in there, trying to grow up. She gave me a place to stand outside of all of that, and she made my journey in that family easier. I didn’t even really know what that meant at the time, but I felt it inside of me. Years later, she went with me to find my first apartment. When everything we looked at was too expensive, or not really where I could imagine living, she invited me to live at her house with her and my niece and nephew. In the end, I stayed nearly two years, and it was the bridge I absolutely needed from my protected young adult life to a slightly more grown-up one.

Over the years, when members of my family have died or been in trouble, it has always been Alice that I’ve reached out to, and Alice who has been there. She is the only family member left who knew me when I was a child, and an adolescent, and an adult. She really was my bridge from a complex family group to a clearing where I could see more possibility and blue sky. We never talked about it that way, and I’m not sure I even fully realized the power of the role she played until now.

We all have lots of bridges that help us on our way, I think. Sometimes they are jobs, or periods of time that just felt safer than others. Moving from one part of our lives to another can be scary and hard, and it can really never be done in a single action. Sometimes it’s just an album or a TV show that give us temporary safety and comfort, that help make the edges a little smoother so our passage to a new thing isn’t quite as frightening.

And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get to be the bridge for someone else. We’re there to listen or talk or just be. In whatever form, we’re there and somewhere along the line the person we helped realizes that their path got a little easier.

That’s what bridges do. They lift us up and carry us across. They make the journey safer and they help us get from one place where we might feel a little stuck to another, where we can move more freely. The other side might be just as scary at first, but having a hand in the trip across means something—always. Most of us have people who served as bridges for us along the way. I feel so lucky that Alice has been one of mine.


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