I have been thinking about bridges lately. Have you ever just sat and thought about the purpose of a bridge? It’s most obvious purpose is to connect one land mass to another. One of my favorite bridges is the Mackinaw Bridge, which connects the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. This bridge spans the five-mile connection between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. It is mighty and magnificent.
Having worked in the dental field for a long time, the purpose of a bridge is to fill the space in a person’s mouth where teeth are missing. This kind of bridge connects one tooth to another closing a gap and offering a solid chewing plane.
Noses, violins, chemistry, and physics all have bridges. Bridges are important in our lives in our cities, in our nation, and in our world. Bridges are used in our academic studies and essential in our family and neighbor relations. During wartime, bridges are often an early target by an invading force. When seeking peace, a bridge is a necessary build.
People’s lives can be lost building bridges. When the Mackinaw Bridge was being built, five men died during the construction process. The United Nations has lost over the years 3,500 peacekeepers who have come from all countries and backgrounds. These bridge builders have given their lives in an effort to bring peace and security to various regions of our world.
Last weekend, I participated in the fourth annual Juneteenth Festival and the inaugural Pride Festival in Delaware. There were a lot of other things I could have been doing on my one free day, but it was important to be there. I wanted to be there. Communities cannot come together for a greater purpose if they don’t get to know each other.
I have, over my 17 years in Delaware, come to know so many people, many who may look or believe differently than I do. Nevertheless, I love these individuals. They have become part of the tapestry of my life. On Saturday, I saw people I’ve missed seeing over the last year and a half. I gave and received so many genuine hugs at the Juneteenth Festival. My cup, emptied by COVID, began to refill that day. That’s what relational bridges do. They have the ability to fill and refill you.
We live in a time where relational bridges have been damaged. In Washington, there is a lot of talk about repairing our country’s infrastructure. I believe that kind of work begins with relationships. The most important infrastructure we need to protect is our relationships with each other.
If we were to look at the things that seem to be separating us right now — race, political views, sexuality and religion just to name a few — we would see that if a bridge were built between the left and the right, there would be a path of opportunity to reach one another.
The first time I crossed the Mackinaw Bridge I was terrified. However, the more I cross that “Mighty Mack,” the more comfortable I became. A colleague who served in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan told me a story about a semi-truck driver who was so terrified by the bridge he could not drive his truck across. A bridge employee asked my friend who just happened to know how to drive a semi if he would take the man and his truck across, which he did. Crossing and building bridges can be scary. More times than not we need someone to travel the bridge with us.
First though, we need to be willing to take a step. Just put one toe on the bridge with the hope of reaching a new understanding of someone we aren’t sure about. With each step we take, we will find our preconceived judgement begin to slip away and our minds and hearts begin to open to another.
I’m inviting you to take the risk. Begin building bridges where you see division. Take one small step onto a bridge and make your way just a bit closer to someone who may think or be different than you. In doing so, you will be bringing new life, new hope and new relationships into your life. In doing so you will bring joy to the God who created you and me and all of God’s creation, human, plant and animal alike.
Rev. Deb Patterson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Delaware.