People think about bridges. It’s irrelevant what kind. Whether suspension, draw, or wooden, they’re always on our minds. This is made clear by how often they work their way into American idioms. Here’s one:
It’s water under the bridge. This statement lets us know that something that was once burdening has now passed. The burden is driftwood and it’s gone down stream. Theoretically, it eventually reaches the ocean and settles with all our other problems.
Here’s one, too:
Don’t burn your bridges. In this case, the connections in question represent the future. For instance, the bridge is a former colleague named Derek: Don’t burn Derek or he might not help you get that promotion in three years.
The bridgeism that’s always stuck like mortar in my thoughts, however, was given to me by the Masons. Bear in mind, the Masons I’m referring to have no affiliation with the fraternal organization, though they are every bit as free. And if these Masons were Masons, it would have little or no affect on the impact of their words. (For reference, I believe the Masons were Christian.)
From the time I was eight years old to fourteen years old, Grant Mason and I were friends. His siblings, Tyler, Arthur, and Madison were also my friends, but to a lesser extent. Plain to see, the Mason children were all named after former Presidents of the United States of America. Unfortunately, Madison always harbored some resentment for being named after a man and chose to go by her middle name, Hillary. Oddly, I myself had (and still have) the last name of an American Presidentâ€”one who served two terms, in fact!â€”which was a popular topic of conversation on our summer road trips.
On one such trip I traveled with the Masons from home to Niagara Falls. It was a venture via station wagon, so needless to say we were bound to cross over several stretches of water. It ended up being six, roundtrip. Wedged between Grant and Madison, with Arthur to the right of Madison, I enjoyed the backseat revelry that was sing-a-longs, counting license plates, and dozing in and out of claustrophobic slumber.
In a Midwest state full of corn and men who harvested it, a flowing, glimmering oasis appeared on the horizon. As if stirred by innate patriotic intuition, the other Presidents and I awoke. It was a very large river. It was the Mississippi Riverâ€”likely named after the state, I thought. There were boats. There were water skis. There were fresh water fish (presumably). Every station wagon on the road slowed to admire, as if simultaneously running out of gasoline and coasting to a halt.
Every passenger and every driver turned their gaze to the natural divider as it approached. Everyone but Mr. Mason. (I never acquired Mr. Mason’s first name, probably because he was ashamed that it wasn’t shared with an American Head of State.) He stared straight ahead, knuckles turning white as he clenched the wheel with more authority than he had the entire drive thus far. A protective and alert focus to his expression, Mr. Mason spoke with calculated certainty moments before crossing the first steel beam of the bridge.
“Bridges freeze first.”
It was July. The temperature was roughly ninety degrees. In the backseat, the temperature was roughly one-hundred and ten degrees. Nonetheless, stone-faced and concrete, his words stood more steadily than the bridge itself. He had spoken this phrase hundreds of times before, was prepared to speak it five more times on this journey alone, and would speak it again and again for the rest of his life.
“Bridges freeze first, kids. Always remember that.”
He was, of course, referring to the scientific truth that in cold weather conditions, bridges will freeze before normal roads, so they must be driven over carefully.
Even at my young age, I felt there was something more to this caution than on the icy surface. Now an older man, I still think about bridges and the fascinating dichotomy they possess. They rise. They fall. We travel through them and over them. Some are short. Some are long. Burning fire, frozen ice, and the water underneath.
Grant I were friends until I grew fourteen years old. He enjoyed athletics and actively participated in them. I didn’t, so I didn’t. I’ve just never liked anything spherical and most sports include a ball. It was a divideâ€”a river, perhapsâ€”that separated us and inevitably ended our friendship. Today, despite being old and mostly made of stone, I regret losing Grant. He was a nice young man at a time when I was, too.
Once we parted ways, Mr. Mason’s warning gained profound relevancy to me. It can be spoken as such: Bridges are relationships. They are everything, in fact. They are life, death, Heaven, Hell, station wagons, baseball gloves, rivers, Presidents, and time. But especially, they are relationships.
“Bridges freeze first,” Mr. Mason warned us. With Grant, I didn’t burn my bridges. There were no hard feelings, no mean spirits. However, the water never went under the bridge, either. The remorse stuck, as I lost a friend for no darn good reason. Balls! Why didn’t I like balls? The relationship was frozen. Not burnt, never washed to the ocean of other regrets, but frozen.
As it turns out, all the bridges in my life are frozen. Maintaining connections is a difficult practice. For most of my life this was very troubling to me, up until the point that my friend Saul (who is more of a mentor than a friend) pointed out that I wasn’t as lonely as I thought I was. “You learned,” he said, “so you’re not lonely.” His words have always satisfied me, or at least enough so that I can sleep and eat and live. Still, I can’t help but think about bridges.
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