I’ve been thinking about bridges recently. How many there are and how different they are .Some look “rustic” and wobbly. Others look as though they could last a thousand years. But they all serve the same purpose. To overcome an obstacle of some kind. To allow us to continue our journey. They cross a variety of obstacles. A river or stream. A chasm. A road. Some are free. Some charge. Some are designed for cars etc whilst others are strictly only for people. Mostly they serve as the only way across an obstacle. Some are major feats of Engineering whilst others are no more than a couple of planks thrown across a stream. They also allow us to go out and come back again.
I like the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff with its Troll living under the bridge. That troll seems to represent an important aspect of bridges. That they are potentially dangerous. (Not mechanically. A well made bridge will stand for a very long time. Any Engineer whose bridge is not fit for purpose soon learns the error of their sums!) To cross a bridge is to go from one realm to another. Sometimes simply from one side of a stream to the opposite bank-a journey of a few yards whilst the Jiahozhu Bay bridge in China runs to 26.4 miles.One makes a crossing to another place-be that a short step or a marathon distance. It represents a step into our future. We come back-if we choose-changed. But we have a choice of sorts. We can try to find another crossing. We can go back the way we’ve come. Or we can cross and risk our troll wanting to devour us as we cross. (The troll also raises the interesting question of what happens below the bridge. Who owns the space under the crossing? And what relationship is there between the life going across the bridge and life underneath the bridge?)
Mehmet Murat ildan observed “The fate of bridges is to be lonely; because bridges are to cross not to stay.” That is the risk we take on crossing a bridge. They are not meant to be our home .(Even the troll lived under the bridge.) In the work of therapy bridges come up a good deal. A person enters therapy from one side of the bank. They will spend a long time exploring that bank. Describing its history. Its wildlife. Its pleasures and dangers. But at some point there will arise the question of a bridge-if they are to move on. “Can I come back if I want to?” is a familiar question in therapy-no matter how it is phrased. It is the question we ask in every transition. “What if I don’t like it there?” Which is where bridges come into their own. They provide a return route if we want it. Children bring their own “bridge” with them when they have a comforter. It provides a link between what is known and what is new.
The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote a paper on “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena”. In it he writes “… there is a third part of the life of a human being…it shall exist as a resting- place for the individual engaged in the perpetual human task of keeping inner and outer reality separate yet inter-related.” I think that describes a bridge.