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A Perspective on Bridges

For some reason bridges keep finding their way into my life lately – both the physical and metaphorical kind.  It has happened with such frequency – I had to stop and take note.  Is there a message I am not noticing? Is there a life lesson I should be learning?

Recently I have been working on a documentary film about an artist whose spectacular painting serves as a connector between two cultures: Nepal and America; two villages: Jomsom, Nepal (in the Western Himalayas)  and Blacksburg, Virginia (in the Blue Ridge Mountains); and two people: an American artist and teacher and a Tibetan amchi-lama-doctor and mind-healer.  The powerful message of human connectedness – against all odds – is brilliantly summed up in both the film’s narrative and the painting’s simple title:  The Bridge.

I lived in the San Francisco Bay area for several years during which time I experienced many earthquakes of varying magnitude.  For the most part, the tremors become a strange part of the everyday experience but the “bigger” ones always leave you feeling rattled.  During my tenure, I lived through four such “rattling” quakes.  Each one stuck as I was driving on a bridge.  While that might seem frightening – as the image of the tragic Bay Bridge collapse likely come to mind – in reality it turned out to be one of the best places I could have been.  The gentle sway of the bridge suspension absorbed the movement and shock – like a mother cradling her young child keeping her from harm.

The path of my life has resulted in a move to a new city or state about every 2 or 3 years.  Sometimes facilitated by an ending and sometimes a beginning – but always serving as a way to evaluate life’s contents.  Times of such transition are a prefect opportunity to appreciate the good, purge the old and embrace the new.  Generally, it’s a way to deep clean my life.  This fall marks two and a half years since moving to Virginia – and like an unconscious clock – my need to deep clean kicked in.  Since I have no plans for a moving truck – I channeled the energy into deep cleaning my house, purging closets, and organizing rooms.  During this process, I came across old letters, notes and photos – items representing bridges I have forged, bridges I have crossed and others I have burned.  It got me thinking…

For many reasons I have spent a lot of time trying to keep the “eras” and “phases” of my life separated – like an island chain — connected under the ocean and disconnected on the surface.  Sometimes ignoring the opportunity to build a bridge and other times striking a match behind me and watching it go up in flames.  But the older I get, the more I find I am looking to build bridges.  I seek out opportunities to foster connections between people, communities, ideas, and dreams. I am drawn to new friends who have shared experiences and others who have experiences to share.  I cling strongly to the friends who have made it over the rickety, Indiana Jones-like bridges of my life – at times suffering burns from the flames.  I am inspired by their perseverance and grateful for the safe passage.

In the coming days, I will be visiting yet another bridge near the University of Virginia to honor the memory of a young woman whose life was cut short as she made her way across.  While I am mindful of the raging “waters” below, I am deeply aware of – and impacted by — the beautiful bridges her life built between people she loved and others she never met.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word “bridge” as “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle” or “ a time, place, or means of connection or transition.”

I’d say that just about sums it up.

Stephanie Koehler is the founder of SAKinterMedia — a public relations + marketing + strategic planning firm in Virginia.

By Stephanie Koehler
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