Bridging The Gap: Obstacles as a Metaphor, Part 5

“Your problem is to bridge the gap between where you are now and the goal you intend to reach” -Earl Nightingale

As I write this, the fifth part in a six part obstacle course series, I am reminded of my earliest impressions of bridges, not just as a path connecting two points, but as powerful symbols whose metaphor resides in the mind.

There is a memory, like a dream, in the earliest recesses of my mind, one of those remembrances that feels as if it was formative to the way my toddler brain told the story of itself in a world rich with first impressions. It is from a time when my perceptions were more symbolic than pragmatic, as I moved from the innocent passive awareness of infancy into the interactive cognition of early childhood.

The memory is of a bridge, spanning what I now know is a relatively small river in my childhood home of New Hampshire, but what was to me then, a deep chasm that split two distant and disparate banks. My mother had brought me here, to a path along the shoreline’s waters, to show me the bridge from below, to introduce me to what a bridge was, exposing her son to another artifact of the world that he would grow up in.

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Looming impossibly high overhead, was a hulking colossus of rust-colored steel, whose cross-members looked to me then like the fossilized ribs of some great prehistoric beast, a titanic sauropod whose skeleton hadn’t worn flesh for some 65 million years.

The memory still overwhelms me as I access it now, as I remember the feeling-tone of awe as my mind was stretched to accept scale beyond anything it had yet experienced. It was the same feeling that overcame me the first time I stood at the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon, when one’s personal sense of scale is obliterated, and the mind must reorient itself in space, plastically re-network itself, in order to reestablish its place in the world of things. It was the same emotion that made me fall to my knees when I first glimpsed Andromeda through my crude binoculars and realized that this was not just one more star in the night sky, but an island universe, a galaxy of a trillion suns, separated from us by a vacuum of 2.5 million light years of intergalactic space.

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ego crushing insignificance

As cars whirred overhead, across the two lane street high in the sky above me, I felt as though I was glimpsing the unseen underpinnings of the world above from the depths of some nether-realm below. Was the whole of the world this way?

“In this world we walk on the roof of hell, gazing at flowers” -Kobayashi Issa

For some many months after I was afraid of that bridge — afraid of many bridges in fact — and slow to trust their construction. Would it yet hold? Would my next footfall be that last stress to which this great metallic beast would finally succumb?

In time I would come to trust the bridge, to trust the symbol of that bridge and of bridges. In time I would learn of their value, of the value of building bridges and the powerful loss that comes with burning them. They are a symbol of connection, like the synaptic junctions of the brain, coupling together two previously dissociated parts, networking otherwise unspanned gulfs.

The bridge is a symbol, crossing it is a metaphor.

“A person needs new experiences … Without change something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

-Duke Leto, from Dune