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The Mother Magazine, Editorial

Issue 51, Mar/Apr 2012

Bridges, by Veronika Sophia Robinson

The beautiful old red sandstone bridge in Lazonby has straddled the River Eden for hundreds of years, and was built in 1762. When it was damaged recently, the route closed. A three-mile journey from home to our daughters’ music lessons and local post office became nine miles each way. The trouble wasn’t that the bridge was closed to traffic, but that I believed the longer journey was inconvenient. The problem wasn’t the bridge, but my mindset.

In life we often have to make a detour when we aren’t expecting to, and our plans change. How well we cope with such changes depends on the circumstances and our ability to go with the flow ~ much like the river we were intending to cross.

The Eden River bends like a snake, and flows through this fertile valley. Bridges are everywhere. Oh how I take them for granted. After the big floods a few years ago when a bridge was washed away, the Local Highways Authority declared it would be checking all 1,800 bridges in Cumbria. The bridges hold our county together. Without them, most people would be completely stranded and isolated. How often do we express gratitude when we pass over a bridge ~ either literal or metaphorical? Do we give thanks for a shorter journey and that we didn’t have to navigate the river by foot, or swim? Do we thank the bridge for supporting us and for not collapsing?

There’s another bridge in our local area. It’s a temporary one ~ built in the 1960s! The irony of it doesn’t escape me, and I always trust that it doesn’t give way while someone is driving across it. When the river floods, I can’t bear to go over that high bridge. My legs turn to jelly. Much to the amusement of one of my daughters, the bottom falls out of my stomach. Perhaps an ancient memory? As a passenger, I can shut my eyes. As a driver, I can’t afford to look down. Eyes straight ahead. Keep focused, girl! Look only to where the bridge ends and connects with the earth again. Of course, it’s not the bridge which scares me, but what’s below. During the last big floods, my husband was stranded on the other side of that bridge. The water had risen so high he couldn’t get to it. He decided to park the car and sleep there for the night. A farmer came by and invited him to stay at his house. In the morning, when Paul returned, he saw that if he’d stayed there both he and the car would have been washed away in the rising floodwaters. For some people, rising challenges can be so overwhelming that the bridge which can lead them to new pastures can seem completely inaccessible.

As a mother, I’ve often had times of coming up against detours. I expected life, and parenting, to be fairly predictable most of the time. You see, it’s easy to think our journey is set and clear. When it’s not; when something unexpected comes to you from the blind side, it can feel like you’re stranded on the wrong side of the river regardless of whether the challenge is physical, emotional or spiritual. Perhaps you’ve felt like this, too, and wondered how on Earth you’d get to the other side. Do we build a bridge or go upstream and see if someone has built one already, or do we stay where we are? The bridges we seek need to be robust and strong to hold us in our transition. We need to feel that there’s no question of instability. Clearly we shouldn’t cross bridges before we get to them, and we’re counselled not to burn bridges, as our ties to the past can give us strength and sustenance in the future.

In the movie The Bridges of Madison County, starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood, the leading lady meets her soulmate and together they live a whole lifetime in four days. He’s a photographer who works for National Geographic magazine, and is on an assignment to document the covered wooden bridges in her local area. His carefree gypsy spirit recognises that everything he’s spent his whole life doing has been leading to their meeting.
And then the four days are up, and her husband and teenage children return from their trip. What stops her from leaving? Her heart is screaming at her to walk out the door and finally begin life.

Why do so many women, myself included, cry with such grief when we watch this movie or read the book? What do we relate to in the story? Betrayal! No, not her betrayal of marriage vows, but the betrayal of her own heart. We’re not applauding an extramarital affair, but encouraging and willing her to be authentic and true to herself. We’re crying for ourselves, and for each and every time we’ve said no to our soul’s calling. Our heart is breaking alongside hers, knowing life will never be the same again.

At the end of his life, a box is sent to her of his belongings, which include his ashes. He asks for them to be scattered at the bridge. When she dies, her will instructs the children to scatter her ashes at the same bridge despite knowing that her husband had bought a family plot at the local cemetery years before. She wrote a letter to her children, saying that she gave her life to her family, and now, in death, she wants to give herself to her soul’s love. Overcome with grief, and the realisation that they never truly knew their mother, the now-adult children are forced to look at their own lives and the compromises they’ve made based on what their mother had taught them. That is, the mother they thought they knew.

How well do your loved ones know you? How well do you know yourself? Do you hide your authentic soul for fear that others won’t love or honour who you really are? Has your heart-song been hidden away for another time and place: your voice been stolen?

The truth is that life is full of bridges. We trust that those who’ve gone before us knew what they were doing, and that their tools and materials have done the job properly and at the right point in the journey. And what of the bridges we build? Do we ever do it solely for ourselves, or are we laying a path for fellow travellers on this journey? I like to think that it’s both, and that all bridges are used more than once. We don’t have time to stop and check bridges for stability and safety every time we cross into a new chapter in our lives, whether it’s birth, bereavement, health concerns or adventures. We trust that the bridge is safe.

Some bridges are long and narrow, others high and short. They may be made from metal, concrete, wood or sandstone. Perhaps it’s a suspension bridge or rope bridge.

One-way bridges are like the road less-travelled, something that many natural parents in Western culture can relate to on a daily basis. Some modern bridges are multi-lane highways: the rat race scrambling to get over them with no time for the view, and generally with no awareness they’re all heading in the same direction, doing the same thing.

My daughters were introduced to bridges from a young age. We’d walk down to Glassonby Beck (the village creek), and play Pooh sticks. The fun and joy they experienced as we dropped sticks from one side of the little bridge, and raced to the other to then see them floating downstream, formed a regular part of our daily walks. Bridges are all around us.

Some, like Pooh Bridge, seem quaint, and provide a platform for pleasure. Others seem far too scary to cross. Whatever bridges await you in life, I trust you always have the strength to cross when the time is right.

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