Thursday, March 11, 2010


"He who burns his bridges better be a damn good swimmer..."

I've long had a fascination with bridges. Despite the fact that more than a third of all people are scared of them to some degree, my love for bridges is somewhat surprising. Perhaps it's because I was born in San Francisco, the city that boasts the "mother of all bridges". Maybe it's tied to my lack of a fear of heights or my passion for travel. Big or small, I just adore them. Whether it's a rustic covered bridge in Vermont, or the historical impact of Tower Bridge in London, each one delights me. My trip to Venice in the early 1990's sent me into a frenzy of joyful bliss. Wheaton College, where I was an undergraduate, had an adorable foot bridge connecting "old campus" to "new campus" as it passed over Peacock Pond, which was complete with the requisite ducks, swans and well as a fountain. The power and enchantment of bridges has been a topic that has been in my daydreams since I was very small....I have Kindergarten drawings that my mother carefully saved of a house, with a family, the pets (always two dogs) and some form of bridge to get to the house. In my current daydreams, my new house always has a bridge leading up to it.

And yet, bridges can be a powerful metaphor, as well as a beautiful architectural statement. "Burning one's bridges" is defined as "To eliminate the possibility of return or retreat. To discard a relationship without chance for reconciliation." How many times in our lives have we said, "To heck with this!" and stomped away? How often have we let bitterness, regret and anger, however justifiable, remove all possibility for forgiveness and congruence? There are instances when releasing a situation, and severing all points of communication, are justified. We cannot put ourselves, or those we love, in harm's way. We must 'burn the bridge' that lies between us and a truly adverse danger. Still, there are other instances in which we act impulsively and defiantly when thoughtful, guarded communication could be a much more useful behavior in the long run.

Once, a dear friend of my parents was invited to join a country club that had been infamous for being grossly anti-Semitic. As a Jew, this friend's proposal to join was obviously surprising to many. But, when his friends and family asked how Norman could even consider membership in such a bigoted organization, Norman answered, "I'm a bridge builder." He knew that he would not change the hearts and minds of those who were prejudiced. Norman also understood that he was being asked to join to prevent a lawsuit filed by others, claiming intolerance. Regardless of the circumstances under which his invitation was issued, Norman saw himself as an Ambassador of sorts...being able to 'build a bridge' between the insular and sectarian to the rest of the community. As young as I was when this experience happened, I remember feeling terribly proud to know such a brave humanitarian. I knew that he would not be welcomed easily. I understood his membership was made grudgingly. Yet, Norman took the opportunity to teach by example, to show tolerance in his own life and to be unfailingly patient.

Sometimes, we may find ourselves standing on the metaphorical shore of one side of a river. On our side is the known, the comfortable and the established. On the far side lies the unknown, the dubious and the ignorant. We may find ourselves called not only to cross a bridge, but also to build one. We may need to learn to forgive. We might well be asked to step onto the path of something that requires us to be vigilant. Yet, by being bridge builders, by showing kindness and courage, we may find ourselves making connections where none existed before. We may have the opportunity to create understanding, where ignorance and mistrust only existed before. We may also discover that distance between the near bank and the far one, isn't nearly as wide an expanse as we once believed.

What does the bridge look like your life? What connections can you make, uniting people and situations? Perhaps you're tempted to burn the leave it behind and leave no trace of it. But maybe, just maybe, you're being called to create, instead of destroy, an important junction.

Monday, March 8, 2010


No one is perfect... that's why pencils have erasers. ~Rosalynn Carter

Like millions of other people around the world last night, I tuned into the 82nd Annual Academy Awards. Just as I have done for most of my life, I curled up soaking in the glittering surroundings, the extraordinary range of talent, the vast array of disciplines to master, the stunning gowns and the quality of excellence that permeates the evening. I don't believe I've ever met a person who hasn't, at least once in the lives, looked into the mirror, held their toothbrush and uttered the expression, "I'd like the thank the Academy....", in private. The Academy Awards represent the pinnacle of perfection to most of us. They offer us 'humble folk' the chance to peek in at an otherwise unseen world of glamor, drama, sophistication and consummating achievement. It's a night designed to recognize those individuals who have transcended the average and moved into pure precision of their crafts. I am always in awe...each and every year.

Yet despite the allure of Oscar night, I can't help but feel awkward for those who don't win. I cringe when the camera focuses on the panel of nominees and watches them plaster on 'good sport' smiles. The fact is, each one of them hopes to be the one taking the walk onto the stage to "thank the Academy". Each one has exceptional talent in their own right, and each one was passed over. It has to feel as if you lean forward off that carousel horse, reaching towards that brass ring with all your might....and feel that ring just slip by without being able to capture it. Do these performers wonder if they were less than perfect? Do these talented thespians ask themselves "Could I have done better?". It's a question each one of us asks ourselves every single day.

The pursuit of excellence and personal achievement has been ingrained into many of us from a very young age. I have had my days in which I have felt utterly confident that I have met every obstacle with passion and overcome each of them with sincerity. However, those days are few and far between. For the most part, I muddle along, making mistakes every step of the way. Instead of leaping over hurdles, I mentally think "Forget it", and turn around. Instead of feeling pride in the work I did, I see every error as if each one was painted with neon arrows that say "Loser!" in a computerized voice. I feel the failures in my heart deeply, particularly when I have let down those people I care most about. I don't wonder what my make-believe "Academy speech" would be; I can't even fathom how I'd be let in the metaphorical door with all of my imperfections. I find myself bogged down in regret, discouragement and misadventure.

Yet, there is something within each of us that inspires us to keep going. That magical, innate spark that dwells within, galvanizing us to pick ourselves up off the track of despair....and to progress forward. We find motivation in perseverance alone. We understand, metaphorically speaking, that sometimes it may be just about finishing the race, rather than emerging as the victor. In the words of St. Paul, in his letter to St. Timothy, "I have fought the good fight, I have run the good race, I have kept the faith." St. Paul did not emerge from his race with laurels, accolades or a golden statue. He was beheaded. Yet, he kept up his belief in the work that he did until the very end of his life...inspiring, extolling, exalting, chastening and motivating those around him. Was his life, and the impact St. Paul had on the entire world, any less because he was not lauded by his peers?

For those who are "heavy laden and weary" today, I offer you encouragement: no matter how intrepid and undaunted most people appear to be, we have all had our moments, or even our years, of doubt and fear. We have all wondered "Why do I even bother continuing to try?". We have plastered on that "good sport smile" when we least feel like it. We have fallen down, scraped up our knees but picked ourselves up with pluck and kept going, even when we know we have no chance at perfection. We can look around us and see dazzling men and women who have attained heights we can't begin to imagine. Yet, even the most secure of these people has had their own times of nervousness and reticence. Perfection is not about gold statues. It doesn't require a lack of mistakes or the absence of errors. Perfection doesn't mean feeling brave and heroic every instant. Perfection simply means finishing the race...with honor, with dignity, with humility, with faith and with temerity. Oscars to place on a mantel are a crowning achievement. However, keeping going, when you simply don't want to, is the true measure of success.