My attention was immediately grabbed by a song title on a recently purchased CD, “The Light from a Burning Bridge.” I sat stock still, the image rippling through me. I immediately began to wonder: How is it we learn to let go? How do we leave the familiar land we have been in to move on to new worlds? How do we drop old patterns when we don’t even know we’ve outgrown them – these old patterns that are unlike the tricycle or the tiny pink sweatsuit with sparkles we had to say goodbye to when our larger size became apparent.
We often build bridges in order to grow. “Let me try this new thing; if it doesn’t work out, I can always move back home.” But can we, really? Are we ever the same person when we make it across to new experiences and then try to come back to safe harbor? Bridges can not only stretch us, but can also limit us, like a safety net, from straying too far as we vacillate from one side of the border to the other.
Sometimes bridges are burned unexpectedly, and we watch them collapse in fear and grief. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a storyteller and curandera, talks about the concept of disconsos: those moments in our lives when the path we were on hit a brick wall, like an unexpected job loss, or a disabling illness, or the death of a loved one or of a relationship. Those events that do not allow us to continue down that road any further, that never let us turn back the clock, that never let us be able to undo what has happened. Disconsos is actually the name of the crosses with flowers and names on them along the roadside where someone’s life has been ended in an auto accident. Estes encourages us to revisit those moments in our lives, feel the emotions fully, and then let go and give the event its proper burial metaphorically, rather than hanging on and wondering how it might have been otherwise.
Sometimes it is we who light the torch for burning the bridge and use the illumination of the burning to see further into the darkness of the new land. This happens when we know that who we are becoming needs to make a crossing and not turn back. Although there is some sadness and grief at these times, the irrepressible spirit in us is pushing for room to grow, to breathe, to create, to hear its own voice and its own call. It requires a selective sort of deafness to not hear the cries of those who love us and need us to stay the same.
Some say we come into this world with a plan, a purpose – and that the important people in our lives often give us obstacles and difficulties to make us strong enough to fulfill that plan, to burn those bridges. They also say that beneath all the wailing and struggling is a Great Game in which we are all helping each other become more of who we are. This makes me smile to think of it, and to make sure there are matches and torches around when I need them.
The prison is your family.
You work in the yard helping the lemon trees.
One limb has surpassed the fence and
one night you go.
Having memorized the pattern of thorns
You zigzag up and over.
You rent a jeep, using a globe for a map.
It feels good.
There are leaves flapping in your hair
whistling along the open night.
One hand caresses the globe, the other, the wheel.
You see some people on the shoulder up ahead.
You speed past them.
It’s your family, smiling in the darkness
eating from a basket of lemons.
You love them.
— Tarmo Hannula