Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridges and Dots and Lines – Oh My!

I've been thinking about bridges. The wise journeyer learns to differentiate between bridges that connect with your future -- intimate passageways to new beginnings -- and those that allow you escape, but no forward progress.

May was my bridge month. In fact, this summer is my bridge summer. I am crossing from one stage of my life into another. The crossing has its smooth, “yellow brick road” moments and it's scary, bumpy parts. Does yours as well?

It was the intimate bridges that cross Paris' Seine River that got me thinking; the Pont Des Invalides, the Pont Arch, the Pont St. Louis. They're human, small-scale, walkable and they come with that world-famous scenery!

I've crossed all sorts of bridges. The formidable Brooklyn Bridge, the covered bridges of Madison County, the Minneapolis bridge that famously collapsed last year, the fog-shrouded Golden Gate connecting San Francisco with Marin County, the world's highest suspension bridge over the Colorado River. Just last week, I crossed Iowa's modest freeway bridges over the North Skunk and the Middle Raccoon (or was it the South Skunk and the North Racoon? I can't recall.) Those last bridges I crossed out of love – traveling to and from my son's college graduation.

Bridges exemplify the fundamental shift that occurs in passing over from one place to another. And this is the thing about bridges. The best don't just allow you passage, they sometimes give you moments to pause, reflect and relate. The best are all about relationships.

My new favorite bridge, the Pont St. Louis, straddles the islands in the Seine called the Ile de la Cite and the Ile Saint Louis, upon which sits Notre Dame. The bridge is tiny. Just a bit of an arched segment less than a hundred meters long. History likes this spot; a bridge has occupied this place for a thousand years.

Every person who comes to Paris walks across this bridge. It is full of multi-nation strollers and Czech jugglers, struggling artists and American jazz musicians performing for thrown Francs. It holds tourists peering at maps held upside down and iPod-toting teens sizing another digital shot of the backside of Notre Dame. Confused Japanese tourists puzzle on it and German travelers argue there. People dine at the sidewalk cafes and Brasseries that border it. Children do somersaults and dance to the music on it. Twilight lovers stroll hand-in-hand. My family waited on it for me to return from a Left Bank forage on the St. Germain and the Rive Gauche. As I crossed the Pont Arch toward them from the Left Bank booksellers, I observed them, people-watching, patient. My people. This bridge is like them – human and alive and connected with MY life.

Another day while on the Pont St. Louis I wrote for a bit. I found myself musing that someone must have written a book called Islands in the Seine. Then I realized that I had mixed this thought with Ernest Hemmingway's Islands in the Sun. But he wrote in Paris, so we know he crossed this way too!

The artist Paul Klee traveled to Paris in 1912 and famously observed that “a line is a dot that takes a walk.” I like to think that that walk also crossed this bridge. Many of us have days when we feel like the smallest, most insignificant dot on the planet. If we consider that our place in time is moving and changing as we change, then what each of us is, really, is a line. Yes, there's a beginning. And an end. But our mark is bigger than that dot. And oh, the bridges we can cross....that magnificent, wandering line of our lives!

©2009 Jan Johnson Wondra

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