Crossing the Bridge we’re on

We’re always already crossing some bridge, but the bridges we most often notice are in the distance, like mirages in the desert. We imagine that these bridges could carry us to some fabulous beyond, or just to a tolerable future, if only we could find their entrance.

Some of these bridges beckon us enticingly to a pot of gold rumored to be waiting at the other end of a shining bridge of light. Some are conjured up more in a spirit of desperation about the present, than a vision of a possible future.

There’s an interesting thing about bridges: when we really need to get away, the train may have already left the station. And when things are going along just fine, we tend not to notice the bridge across whose lanes the future is pouring into our present life.

There’s a joke I heard years ago, which has a bridge in its cast of characters and also captures something about the role of bridges in daily life.

A man wandering along a beach in California trips over the spout of an old tea pot sticking out from the sand. He digs it out and, while rubbing the sand off, a strange mist comes out of the spout and a genie appears. Hovering before him, this apparition exclaims, “Oh, thank you! I’ve been imprisoned for centuries. Now, before I run off to do all the things I’ve been dreaming of doing, I am obliged to grant you a wish. Ask me for whatever you want, and I will give it to you.”

Without much thought the man replies, “I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii. Can you build me a bridge so I can drive there?”

The genie, who possessed the ability to transform physical reality, tries to dissuade him. “Please consider how this would disrupt the migration path of whales and block commercial shipping lanes. Could you possibly make another request?”

With even less thought the man responds, “I’ve never understood women. Could you explain how women think and feel about things?”

The genie, seeming to get a little smaller, hesitates, and then finally says, “Do you want two lanes or four lanes?”

In an odd way, this joke captures something about our current time, when relationships between the genders, the races, and between different political views are in conflict, as each of us looks for a bridge to the kind of future we personally want but are unwilling to work with others to build a wider bridge that could achieve common goals.

The limitations of the past keep pushing themselves into the nexus of time where a living future—respectful of the interests of all—would have to arise.

Could it be that we each need to pause and notice that we are already standing on a bridge that connects us to the future? Whatever our personal challenges, we can be grateful that we are breathing, feeling and thinking human beings with hearts and minds able to form intentions. Do we not owe a debt of gratitude for being interested and engaged in a flow of time that keeps offering us chances to change course?

In the joke, it’s the genie who is concerned about the consequences of actions, perhaps because he has long practice in knowing that actions do have consequences. While the beachcomber, wandering through life, doesn’t take situations seriously enough to believe that what he does can make any difference for others or for the world on which we all depend.

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