I crossed the new road bridge over the Firth of Forth – the Queensferry Crossing – earlier this month. It is now one of three bridges strung from West Lothian across to Fife. It joins the famous rail bridge and the older (requiring attention) road bridge. I know, I’m a little late – it opened almost nine months ago, but nothing had pulled me north of the city in that time and so it has taken me a while to get over it. I was going to reflect on it, tell you all about how beautiful it is, how a tour of the bridges is now a must-do for Edinburgh’s tourists; that it’s right up there with ‘doing’ the Castle, the Palace, and Arthur’s Seat. But my story of the bridges has been usurped by the tough-love phrase resounding in my head, those words: ‘build a bridge and get over it’. I first heard it said by P., back in Dublin, in about 2002, and it has never left me. Unhelpful words? They could be. Although, 16 years ago, when P. first bowled the line at me, it was probably what I needed to hear. After all, if it has stayed with me all this time I must have been more interested in it than offended by it, so it can’t have been in response to too serious a sob story. Lately, the words are a faint echo, a repeating chorus in my head, as different friends are going though tough times. The last thing (I hope) I would say to them is to build a bridge and get over it. It’s right up there with: ‘Put your big girl pants on and get on with it,’ or ‘Nobody said life was going to be easy.’ I’m firmly in the camp that believes this type of tough love does have its place and time; it’s just that some peoples’ timing in telling you to ‘big-up’ can be way off: wrong place, wrong time.
The path to healing is not linear. It is rarely a beautiful bridge that runs in an engineered straight line from one shore to the next. The course of the Missouri river runs 2,341 miles, yet, as the crow flies, it covers a distance of only about half of that. The path the river has dug out for itself doubles the actual distance from source to mouth as it meanders, slinking out into oxbows, taking almost full circle loops before it finds its way again and proceeds forward. Yet, it is always in flow, always in movement. And so it is with moving on, letting go, and healing (whether emotional or physical); it can feel sometimes like you are turning back on yourself, but it’s all progress. ‘Healing is not a straight line’, so wrote Henri Nouwen, ‘you must expect setback and regressions.’
But we all must strive to build that bridge, all of us need to keep trying to cross over, and my fear is that we become so careful with others (or ourselves) in their plight, so gentle with their ‘stuckness’, that we encourage inertia, we pull ourselves back into quicksand, impossible to move out of, and sit with the record playing the same old sad song. Forgive the image, but I reckon you can pick a scab so much that you can give yourself septicaemia. By which I mean, eventually there comes a moment when the crying and moaning and analysis and complaining is done, it’s done – and you just have to build a bridge and get over it.
So, as I meander my way through the twists and turns of this blog, let me take an oxbow bend back to the bridge that started me off, the glorious new bridge across the Firth of Forth. Where the cables, draped high from pylon to pylon, look like stringed harps all lined up to be played by giants. Or, when the sun shines on them and catches them at a certain angle, they look like three yachts in full sail racing out towards the North Sea. Or you could say they look like whalebones; carcass picked clean by nature, leaving the rib cage open to the air. Whichever you think it looks like, it is a beautiful piece of engineering and it’s now one of my favourite bridges, up there with Bristol’s Clifton Suspension Bridge. And, come to think of it, where would the people of Bristol be had someone not looked down onto the chasm of the Avon Gorge, turned to Isambard Kingdom Brunel and told him to, ‘build a bridge and get over it’? Thanks for your advice, P., 16 years on and your words of wisdom have never left me.