Story: Crossing a Bridge
Excerpted from "Crossing a Bridge," by the Reverend Tim Kutzmark, Unitarian Universalist Church, Reading, Massachusetts, from Quest, a publication of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, January 2008. Used with permission.
The railroad bridge seemed to stretch out for a mile over the ravine. It linked the sharp rocky edge of where we stood to some far away, unknown ending. If you breathed deep you could still smell tar, steamy and sticky, that had long ago bubbled up on the bridge's beams, heated by the late summer sun. The paint had faded over the last few years, but the warning was still there: "No trespassing." We laughed, and threw rocks at the other sign, the one proclaiming: "Do not cross."
No one but us kids ever came out there during the day. At night, the teenagers would come. We would find their beer cans, cigarette butts, even, once, a pair of Fruit of the Loom underwear, waist size 28 inches. But by day, that edge of that bridge was ours. It was a great place to hide — from grown ups, and from the world that wanted us to be everything we were not. It was a great place to dream of everything we might become.
Shoes hung around our necks, with t-shirts tucked into the waist of our low slung shorts, we would walk a little way out onto that bridge, just out over the deep creek that ran below. The bigger, braver boys would walk forward along one metal rail, balancing and reveling in the heat that seared dirty toes, pain proving they were more than just boys pretending to be men. The smaller of us would cling to the sides of the bridge, holding on as we edged out over the water, cautiously reaching legs from railroad tie to railroad tie.
We always stopped a quarter of the way out. Screaming, and yelling, "Train!" we would turn and rush back to the dirt and rocks, laughing and rolling together till it was time to return to home. Home, that sometimes harder place, where dreams could drain away.
No one had yet crossed that railroad bridge, no one that we knew. None of us yet needed to know what waited at the far end. We'd heard stories. Ten years earlier the Nulandy twins got caught mid-bridge by the train. Jimmy jumped at the last minute, landing hard on the rocks. Kieran took the train full force on his back as he tried to outrun it. One bridge, two boys, two deaths. We always stopped a quarter of the way out and turned back.
But that day was different. Something had changed. That afternoon, we decided to cross over. We would claim the other side.
We walked out to where we always stopped. This time, no one yelled, "Train!" and retreated. In the shadows cast by the sun, edges were blurring and yesterday seemed done. And then, almost as one, we stepped beyond. We let go of something, something that was once strangely us, but now was no more.
We were in between. We were off balance. We were unknown to our own selves. As if on cue, the breeze picked up, whipping through the wooden beams. It tousled Terry's hair. He smiled. Another gust, cooler, caused me to stop. Christian hollered and tossed his t-shirt high above our heads, and for a moment it rode the wind out beyond the bridge. I shut my eyes, threw open my arms, wide, and let that same wind rush across my skin. Then, with eyes open, we stepped forward.
And that's how it can happen, how a day that seems so ordinary can somehow become a day of new beginning. Those moments do not come easily. We have to consciously claim them, create them. We have to dare them into being. In the end, we have to choose to cross over.