If we live long enough, almost everything we see, hear or do becomes a trigger for a memory of something we have seen, heard or done. It would be nice if we could do a selective match and everything we experience today would bring back only the best of yesterday, but our memories are not that easily parceled, and we're left to sort in the present the things of the past. What a gift. Each time we experience something painful or something joyful, we get another opportunity to put our past into a widening perspective.
This morning was exceptionally bright and beautiful, no clouds and little wind to stir the briskness of the winter chill. Standing at the pump, filling the car with gas, I was distracted by a tiny wave and a big grin. A little boy -- about four -- was perched like a cowboy on the side of the bed of a sleek Ford F-150 and he was delighted, freed from the confining car seat while his mother pumped gas and occasionally poked him in the ribs and ran her hand across his head. He laughed and kicked his boots against the side of the truck, leaning away from her, pretending to fend off her affections. And then he stopped, caught my eye, smiled, waved, and threw his hands up in the air with a "whatever" look to the sky.
Another car pulled up to the pump across from the truck and he repeated his act, a friend to all. His mother finished filling the truck, mouthed what looked like the words, "little monkey," swept him inside, buckled him up and away they drove.
Memories encroached. Me as a child . . . me as a father with little children . . . me as a grandfather. Generational moments of the decades . . . wide-eyed, bleary-eyed, wide-eyed again . . . sometimes teary-eyed with sadness, sometimes closed-eyed in frustration and regret, sometimes clear-eyed and brilliant blue in laughter or peace. The mind's eye fights the reluctant mind in the memory process, but very few things are sifted out. I wish I could say that all I see in the mental rear-view mirror is good, but it is not. Some of those bridges were tough to cross then and rough to remember now.
Though "bridges" serve only as metaphors in relation to our memories, it is amazing how many true bridges I can remember.
A bridge in the park near our home where my father would take us on visits. Made of large stones and mortar, it arched above a creek that often ran dry. We could have run across the ground but we always chose the bridge. I remember standing on it with my brother and my sisters while my dad took pictures of us with his black-and-white box camera. All was well on those spread-out Saturdays.
A bridge in the country near Bridgeport, Texas where my dad would stand with his 22 caliber rifle shooting beer bottles on the banks of the muddy river, occasionally picking off a wayward and clueless squirrel. The shots would echo through the countryside then and through my memory now.
A bridge near Denton, Texas where I posed for photos once, with long hair and confident grin, looking for the world like I had the world under control . . . shortly before my first fall as a college freshman, beginning a spiral into same-sex exploration that would have all my world under its temptation-fueled control for way too long and at too great a price.
There were more bridges, big and small, architectural wonders over great gorges to two-by-fours over grimy creek-beds. Too many to remember. Ahhh . . . see, some bridges just "burn" on their own.
The person trying to leave behind a regrettable past or overcome a suffocating present shrouded by sexual brokenness, whether unwanted same-sex attraction, pornography addiction, adultery or other, yearns for a sledgehammer to knock down those bridges, or fuel for a raging fire, plus the determination never to re-build or re-trace the steps across the perilous threatening plunge that remains beneath those beckoning bridges. Burn those bridges . . . one-by-one . . . crisp and done, like tossing photos in a campfire.
Memories, however, are not ashes. They don't follow the wind out onto the horizon and disappear into the night sky. They linger like a determined fog and hold us back for one more try above the gorge, reaching for what seem like irretrievable relationships with friends and family who may have long-since stopped waving and wondering. The toll booth on those bridges requires a second-or-more-chance ticket, but . . . that ticket may have burned with the bridge.
So, the question is, when one is determined to move on to a new life, how much energy should go into dismantling the stones and mortar, beams and planks, steel and lumber from the past? Maybe there are good reasons to return? In reality, each of our lives is a messy mixture of good and bad things seen, heard and done. The raging torch does not discriminate between Redwoods and scrub brush, the really good and the really bad; it burns it all if left to run its course.
If every bridge is burned, we become islands of ourselves. No thanks.
Some bridges smolder and remain unsafe for any further travel. People in your past who were a part of your sexual fall should remain in your past, left alone like hot coals. The memories alone will be tough enough to take to God on a regular basis when they intrude. Given time and left untended, those bridges will collapse on their own. Leave them to their own weight and don't try to convince yourself that you need to go back and make things right. That's what confession and prayer are for.
Some bridges were burned by others the minute we stepped off of them. We turn timidly around and nothing remains, not even a firm bank on which to start the rebuilding process. Running in the air like a hapless cartoon character, we eventually see there is nothing beneath our feet. If those who burned them ever relinquish control, perhaps God can rebuild those. For instance, while I am convinced God is hearing the prayers of many, my sons and my daughter have, at this point, moved even beyond waving distance. I've consumed a mountain of materials in my efforts to re-build that bridge and not even a rope extends across the chasm. This one is God's; His will to prevail.
Some bridges are just no longer bridges, no matter how hard you try to keep them spanning. Time takes care of some of them, but not if you refuse to cooperate. The man who abused me is, in all likelihood, dead, but, if not, the decades of distance makes him so to me. My father, who surrendered to alcohol, is also dead. Those of us who so long for the extension of forgiveness and grace for the harm we've done to others only pay lip service to those great gifts if we do not extend that grace and forgiveness to those who hurt us. One of the saddest sounds I hear are the plaintive cries of those still bound by past hurts done to them, allowing their present to be dominated by the pain of the past, clinging to it, claiming it as an identity.
"But, I can't move on," they say. "Too much happened to me for too long."
Buddy . . . that bridge needs to be burned. Crossing back and forth on it in your solo journey gets you no where. It's all beginning-agains and do-overs. Burn that one and you may soon see it is constructed only of memory. There's nothing real there anymore. As painful as it is to realize, the perpetrator likely moved on across that bridge. Unless there is something you can still do to protect others, let God collect that toll while you move on to the next bridge, and find that . . .
Some bridges are still beautiful and strong, like the people who stand upon them. Maybe you are afraid to take a step onto a bridge you only thought was burned, fearful it might collapse beneath the weight of history, succumbing to the reality of repeated failures. You don't trust it because you yourself seem so unworthy of trust. And yet, standing there in the middle of the bridge is someone who says "try again." A bridge-keeper, appointed by God Himself, who does not give up on you and will stand with you until your balance returns. A bridge-keeper positioned to prove not all bridges are burned.
Life is too precious to decide at some point that it is pointless to relentlessly pursue restoration. We're not bound by the bridges of the past when we are bound to the Ultimate Bridge-Builder. Only if we do not believe in God can we be excused from seeking to be renewed and restored to the persons He purposed us to be. We're not accidental tourists in a wayward world; we were planned and placed on a path . . . but found ourselves too enticed by a bridge to another direction.
Now that's a bridge we need to cross when we come to it.