How can I reconcile such a contradiction that the 9 City Bridge Run was both a journey of misadventure, and at the same time a worthwhile endeavour? I described in the last chapter the difficult nature of the journey, but also alluded to the benefit gained. Sounds incongruent? My explanation might seem to be an effort to salvage some value in what was an nothing more than a ridiculously expensive wasted opportunity, but this is not the case at all.
The idea behind the 9 City Bridge Run grew out of the intention I had for the 7 x 7 City Bridge Run. Both events were underpinned by a journey that was about building bridges.
I instinctively I knew that building bridges was important. But I also was aware that there had to be more substance than a simply reciting a trite slogan. We all know that building bridges between different people is important, but that doesn’t mean that it is something that comes easily. My sense was that the expression “building bridges” is often used as a feel-good sound bite by politicians and business leaders alike. It is also now commonplace as a central slogan for many community activities, and for good reason. Without meaning to sound like a hard-bitten cynic, meaningful action must trump idealism. Words alone are not enough.
What does it mean to build a bridge? We are all familiar with bridges. We cross them every day without so much as a moment’s thought. Every bridge has some basic components: a span extending across one or more supports, which need to be grounded upon a stable foundation. I’m not an engineer, but it seems to me that a bridge consists of these three elements: span, support, foundation. How these three components are designed will depend on the location, the technology available, a sense of aesthetic and ambition by the building team.
A bridge joins up people who were separated, or removes the need to negotiate an obstacle. A bridge might also be a time saving device by creating a path for mobility which bypasses clutter and and competing traffic flows that otherwise might hamper the smooth direction of travel.
Building a bridge can be dangerous. How many times have we read on the news about bridges that collapse resulting in the death of workers?
A bridge can take time to build. It almost certainly requires planning, along also the approval of stakeholders on either side of the bridge and those who will access the bridge itself.
Opening of the bridge is worthy of some form of celebration and acknowledgement. And after the bridge is operational, it needs maintenance.
I embraced the expression building bridges to refer to the conversations that I assumed would inevitably follow from conducting the running stunt. I believed that these would lead to a deeper connection across communities to bring people with resources into the orbit of people who needed their support, or vice versa.
Here, I want to talk about one bridge that was built as a result of the 9 City Bridge Run, which was perhaps the most important bridge that came out of this whole endeavour described in this book. Because of this bridge, all of the hardship, fatigue and expense that I experienced was mitigated. It didn’t make the privation I encountered any easier, but it did mean that it was not a wasted effort. This bridge was never intended to be an objective of this quest, but it has infused it with a sense of purpose.
This ripples created by the building of this particular bridge were significant, and in fact singularly allowed the 10 City Bridge Run to occur. In fact, without this bridge this story would never have been told. It was this bridge alone that ensured this journey was not an entirely redundant waste.
The bridge I am referring to was built between my father and I. The reasons why reconnection was necessary aren’t important for discussion in this book. Suffice to say that we reconnected during the 9 City Bridge Run after a lengthy period of time where there was little contact between each other.
There is a parable told in a famous book about one of two son’s who takes his inheritance from his father while his father is still living. The ancient story brilliantly told in such a way that the context can be understood in any culture. The story sees the son acting with the ultimate disrespect by claiming his inheritance during the lifetime of his father. The son blows all of the money from his inheritance on wine, women and song. He knows that his father is a rich man. He seeks to return to his father and beg for his father to take him into his employment as one of his servants. The son figures that while he would be excommunicated from the family, he would at least be in bearable living conditions. As he approached his father’s estate, his father who had been waiting in anticipation in the hope of his return one day saw the son before he arrived at the estate. It is a wonderful story about reconnecting, and the story goes further to examine the attitudes of other people who are involved in the return of the son into the care of his father. This parable ends by examining the social implications of the son’s return, and beyond that doesn’t continue as a story.
A parable is a parable, and on one level is simply a literary device used to illustrate a point in a given narrative. It well might be a completely fictional story, but is one we as humans can well relate.
The point of the bridge that was built between my father and I is that the ripples continue to extend through both of our lives. The utility of this bridge is extends far beyond the relationship between him and I. Those ripples from the action of building this bridge have also now touched your life, at the very least because you are reading this page. Bridging is an incredibly powerful act, and should never be underestimated. We can’t see the lifetime value of this action at the beginning.
That bridge was built in 2009. Neither my father nor myself knew that at the end of 2015 we would travel together to a place we used to go camping as a family when my brother and I were children. The three of us returned together on this occasion, my father, my brother and I. It was a beautiful day, even though a bittersweet excursion. My father and I were carrying the cremated ashes of my brother who had died during the time I was completing the 10 City Bridge Run. My brother’s last words to me that gave me the necessary inspiration to continue this running journey until completion. But none of that would have mattered if my father and I weren’t on talking terms because of the absence of a bridge.