During my recent autumn retreat to Michigan, I was lying on my sister’s couch on a rainy, cool, dreary afternoon. With the fireplace spreading a cheery glow, I was idly flipping through catalogs and looking around her living room. She had created a cozy, eclectic space that reflects her life. “Oh, I found that in Paris” or “I picked that up in Spain.” A very artsy vibe, every so often dotted with a touch of whimsy. One of those touches that captured my attention that cozy afternoon was a little sign on her fireplace mantle, “The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which bridge to burn.”
I questioned her about the sign. She said the expression spoke to her and she knew she needed to bring it home as a small reminder of learning to navigate her own life. I tried poking the bear a bit to learn what bridges she had burned and if she had any regrets without much success. She did offer up the following reflection for this post:
“When I spotted this small block on a shop shelf it struck a chord with me. I am not a person who travels the familiar paths in life but one who has often taken the road less traveled. Occasionally, over the decades I have encountered the proverbial bridge. Now I know the conventional wisdom is to not burn those bridges, however, I am not the conventional sort. After considerable thought and due deliberation, I try to judge, does the person or circumstance that the bridge represents enhance or damage my life.
I believe that life is precious and time the ultimate gift. Do I continue to beat my head against the same old wall or straighten my spine and walk away, recognizing there may never be enough time in the world to solve a particular problem? My kind sister once sent me a card which read, ‘Backbone beats Wishbone Every time.’ I love that card and it is framed in my office. So occasionally in my life I have chosen to burn the bridge down. It is sometimes difficult but after a stern talk with your conscious, it may be the self-healing path you need to travel. And only once in a while do I look back and like a nighttime arsonist, smile into the flames.”jgk
We have all been at crossroads in our lives when we had to decide whether to cross the bridge or burn it down. Prevailing sentiment does steer us not to burn bridges. I am particularly fond of, “Don’t burn a bridge and expect me to send a boat.” When you burn a bridge, there is (usually) no going back. Yet some people burn them and proceed to blow them up with explosives. For some, the no going back is part of the motive for the fire.
Between celebrating my milestone birthday of 65 and having more downtime due to the Pandemic Pause, I find myself reviewing my life and choices made. My life has been more conventional than that of my outlier sister. In fact, I can only think of one time I truly burned a bridge. I was engaged to be married to another man before meeting Mr. Smith. As I sat down to address the wedding invitations, I was struck with the strong realization this was not the correct bridge for me to cross. Breaking off the engagement was difficult, no one wants to be rejected or be the rejecter. But I had a clear recognition that I could not go through with the marriage and for the sake of both parties involved, the bridge needed to be truly burned. My father unscored this thought. When I told my parents I had decided not to marry, my dad said, “That’s fine, but there will be no going back and forth on the decision.” He understood the importance of not trifling with someone’s feelings and his words helped me fully grasp the finality of my decision.
That burned bridged forced me forward. I made a move to Ann Arbor, Michigan where I met Mr. Smith and the rest is history! We have crossed several bridges together, we have ridden a few rapids, and a couple of times we have had to portage. Some bridges were breathtaking and lovely. Some were rickety and scary. And we are still here.
Have you burned bridges that you regret or like me, did that push you forward, exposing you to new people and new adventures? Crossing bridges has allowed me to discover new strengths I didn’t know I had. And the times the bridge collapsed while I was on it, I learned I can fail and survive. I doubt many of us reach the age of 65 without a few regrets – should I have crossed that bridge, should I have burned it? But I can’t go back, I can only go forward. As I sit on my perch and look out over the magnificent bridge over the Susquehanna, I wonder what the next bridge will be and if I’ll cross it.
C’est la vie.