by Anita Cheung
We all love bridges because they take us somewhere that we want to go. The majority of bridges are built over various forms of water, which may be in the form of a strait connecting two countries (such as the bridge between Singapore and Malaysia over the Singapore Strait), a river (such as the many bridges on the Mississippi RIver), brook or a steep drop that cannot be traversed in any other way (such as the famous El Taco Bridge in Ronda in the province of Malaga in Spain) and often our destination is not accessible from any other direction. Bridges are an architectural feat of accomplishment, the perfect balance of materials and design which enable all to pass over safely. Not only can one enjoy looking at a river, stream, brook, estuary or strait, but also enjoy views of the countryside, trees, villages or cities whilst on the bridge. Bridges speak about a journey that has a destination and as an intrepid traveller, I love any object, memory or opportunity to talk about past, present or future travel, journeys and destinations!
Perhaps my earliest memory of a bridge is the one that was built in my home city to connect the city to Mount Maunganui, New Zealand’s largest port. I remember hearing the news about the planning stages as well as seeing the bridge being constructed. Obviously there were various opinions both for and against the bridge, but seeing as I wasn’t an adult at the time, I was largely unaffected by these. So the bridge was built and it was paid for by a toll that was charged for each vehicle that used it. We were told that the toll booths would be removed once the construction costs had been covered, but to be honest, nobody believed that. However, true to what had been decided, once the required money was collected, the toll booths were removed and the bridge is now open and free to all. As you cross over the bridge, you have the sea on both sides so no matter where you look, your view is one of incredible beauty. It is a very short, but pleasant, crossing. It is so beautiful that at times I have been in the car with friends and conversation has actually stopped as we have crossed over the bridge. The bridge reduced travel time to Mount Maunganui, which is a place that offers walking, hot pools, a beautiful long clean beach (and the roaring waves of the Pacific Ocean) with excellent surf as well as shopping, cinemas and other activities. In short, it’s where everyone goes on the weekend! Since then, I have discovered many more bridges around the world and whether they are modern and connecting countries or hundreds of years old and connecting villages, each one is unique with their individual features of location and representation of architecture from distinct periods of history.
I was interested to discover that the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis (which I have yet to see in person) has been recognised as a National Civil Engineering Landmark. It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the Mississippi River and is the second oldest bridge on the river. It is 640 metres consisting of 21 stone arch spans (made of granite and magnesium limestone) including one steel-deck truss span and sits 7.4m above the river and was originally constructed in 1883 by the railroad tycoon James J. Hill for his Great Northern Railway. The bridge is now used for foot traffic and as a pedestrian bridge and in terms of beauty, it is unrivalled. Although - as I have previously mentioned - I have not seen the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis in person, I have seen various stone bridges in Europe and their picturesque beauty never ceases to captivate me or to spark my imagination regarding days gone by.
When I contemplate the variety of bridges that I have seen, the eras they represent, the functions they fulfil and the variety of materials used for each one, I can’t help but think about friendships in life and how they are similar to bridges. Each one is distinct, has a different age and could possibly be from a different era, but each fulfils the same function; they help us get from one place to another. As much as we love the picture of a bridge, seldom do we find ourselves physically in front of a bridge when facing decisions in life, but true friends are there to help us over the difficult patches and make sure that we arrive safely to the other side. The famous song by Simon and Garfunkel ‘Like a Bridge over Troubled Water’ has immortalised this picture of love and friendship:
When you’re weary
When tears are in your eyes
I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side
Oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Maybe you - like me - are able to look at the range of friends you have and see as diverse a range of friends as the bridges that we have physically crossed over in our lives. Diversity of ages, experiences in life, financial situations, backgrounds and race and each one of these nuggets contributes something special to your own existence. Each one brings something unique to your life in terms of wisdom, help, laughter and fun times. As I think about the eclectic mix of my closest friends, I can see an age span of about 30 years between the youngest and the oldest as well as representation from nearly ten different nations. Some of my friends are married, some are single and some are divorced. Some have children, some have adopted children, some have none and some have lost children. Almost all have lost a loved one at some point. Some are entrepreneurs and some are followers. Some are extroverts and some are introverts. Some are well-heeled and some are still working crazy hours to improve their situation. Each one is unique and plays their own special role in my life. So whether the bridge that has to be crossed is financial hardship, a relationship breakup, the loss of a loved one, illness or unemployment, there will be a friend who has been through the same set of experiences and can relate to those circumstances in a special way. Bridges, Bridges like friends that help us over moments of difficulty, trials and difficult situations and lead us to places of lightness, laughter and love.
From time to time though, our friends also have their moments of going through difficult circumstances and perhaps they choose to close down for a while - like the Mackinac Bridge in Michigan which was closed down a couple of weeks agos following a bomb threat. However, permanent closure rarely lasts and it is not long before threats have been dealt with and bridges and friends open up again. Should we have a friend in such circumstances, then perhaps it is our turn to offer support.and say, in the words of Bill Withers famous song ‘Lean on Me’:
Lean on me
When you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on…
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on.
If they are a true friend to you and if you are a true friend to them, you will be there for each other to help, love, support and encourage through whatever moments life brings your way be those challenges or moments of celebration. And should communication fail and misunderstandings arise then with our true friends we somehow find the strength to let go of our need to be right in order to preserve the friendship. As time goes on, we can let go, celebrate the good moments with our cherished friend once more, and say that it was all water under the bridge.