As I walked to the supermarket this evening the light was beautiful, casting long shadows across the ground. The golden light made the greens of the trees bright, alive and vibrant. I took a photo of this ‘Weak Bridge’ sign which marks the point where an old, disused railway line passes under the road. It got me thinking about bridges as symbols.
I suppose at its most basic a bridge is needed on your journey if there’s something you have to get over (such as water, a ravine or a road). If there is a bridge it means that you don’t have to make a circuitous route round your obstacle, but can go straight over it and continue on your journey unimpeded. That’s great for those of us who get to use them, but building them in the first place must be a difficult job, as must be making them strong enough to cope with anything that wants to cross.
Bridges are also interesting symbolically because often we think that as you cross over one you move into a new kind of territory, a new stage in your journey, one which possibly has a very different landscape.
I think it’s worth thinking about the symbol of the bridge at moments in our lives where we contemplate change. It might be that we are thinking about changing career, starting a family, moving to an unfamiliar town or taking on a new responsibility. If we’re lucky, the bridge may already be there and we can easily find the courage to cross it and step into an unfamiliar landscape. At other times we may need to build the bridge before we can cross over into something new: we may need to earn some new qualifications, work through a psychological issue, or put ourselves into an uncomfortable (but stretching) learning situation.
Whether we need to build the bridge or not, before we start to cross it may be wise to check that it is strong enough to take our weight. Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to drop some of the heavy stuff we are carrying – our self-doubt, anger, lethargy or anxiety – to ensure that we are as light as possible before we take that scary first step.
This week I have had a heap of things on my ‘To Do’ list. Every day I’ve piled things onto the list and have tried to zoom through them (with varying levels of success). Today, however, there was nothing on my list at all because I put aside the whole day to spend with a very dear friend I haven’t seen for a couple of years. It seems incredible to me, but I have now known her for 30 years and it would be hard to find many other people who have made such an impact on me in the course of my life.
Having said that, we did not get off to a good start! We met on our first day at university. She was an evangelical christian, whereas I had only ever been inside a church to perform in concerts. She told me straight off that I was going to burn in the fiery pits of hell (and then proceeded to eat the food I’d brought from home for my first meal). She was massively extraverted, beautiful and self-assured and had a level of confidence which came partly from having spent a year abroad before university. I was quieter, under-confident and felt totally out of my depth having come straight from school. I haven’t got time to explain here how we moved on from that poor beginning, but without her loving friendship and care I am not sure that I would ever have started my christian journey.
Thirty years on and she is a transformed woman. She is now much quieter and deeper, more reflective and wise, but still has a transformational impact on the people she meets. She has moved from a rather aggressive evangelical stance to a much calmer, richer, contemplative and thought-through faith. I can no longer imagine her barging into a new place and putting people’s backs up at high speed: she has slowed down and deepened out, but has managed to do that without losing any of her energy, edge and passion.
Today I’m still thinking about the time I spent with my friend yesterday. The word that I often use when I want to describe her to someone is ‘transparent’ as she has the ability to just be herself, no matter who she is with or what she is doing. Transparency is a quality I have always craved and I think that is partly why I love this piece of glass which sits on the windowsill in my kitchen. I love the way it catches the light (so different through the course of the day) and how I can see through it into the garden beyond.
I often think that the spiritual journey is largely to do with the movement towards transparency: as people grow spiritually they appear less and less in need of being seen, noticed and commented upon. They don’t seem to need to be recognised as having any particular skills, strengths or abilities. And yet they don’t become invisible: they have a transparency which allows the divine light to shine through them and be seen in the world.
Today was one of those days where, for much of it, I wasn’t thinking about the deeper things in life, wasn’t aching for transformation, searching for meaning or longing for transparency. My mind was on far more mundane things (things which surely shouldn’t be too difficult to find in comparison): I only wanted a new dress, dammit…
It was one of those awful days when the mirrors in the shops were far too honest. Not only honest, but set in groups which managed to prove to me that I no longer have a ‘good side’. I felt fat, saggy, old and distinctly unbeautiful. All the shop assistants had impossibly small waists, stunningly toned arms and impressive cleavages. I felt like a dowdy old lady in comparison. Somehow I had managed to bypass the rite-of-passage moment where I needed to realise I had become my mother, and moved straight on to realising that I had become my grandmother.
Walking dejectedly back from the shops, I took photos of the models and mannequins staring out at me from every shop window. I was struck by the fact that they all had miserable expressions on their faces. In a different frame of mind I may have thought they were ‘moody’ and ‘cool’ instead, but today I grumpily assumed they were miserable because they never got to eat cream buns and had to make themselves sick every time they succumbed to a piece of chocolate…
As I stomped up the hill towards my house I tried to think about the importance of being beautiful on the inside, of having a beautiful spirit. But I wasn’t convincing myself. What I really wanted was to be young again, to have the figure I used to have (and never realised at the time was lovely). I wanted to be noticed when I walked down the street, to feel appreciated and admired and desired.
When I got home, I walked up the drive and my husband saw me coming. He looked up, gave me a big, warm grin and a wave. I think it’s unlikely that he was completely overwhelmed by my beauty (inside or outside), but it was reassuring to realise that he looked pleased that I was back.
Thank you for reading. I am going away for several days tomorrow and won’t be able to post anything again until next Thursday. I hope you all have a wonderful week!