Friday, January 9, 2009

Building Bridges and Putting up Signs

I was coming through Samish Canyon on the way home the other day when I saw a flashing yellow light ahead. Because the highway skirts the mountainside and there are lots of trees, it’s not the brightest drive in the world, even on a sunny day. Heavy rain falling from sodden gray clouds had turned mid-afternoon into evening, and I drove slower than usual.I had already hit one place where a film of water on the road caused me to hydroplane.

Cascades tumbled through fissures in the sheer rocks above me, and a boulder bigger than my car had come loose and flattened a guard rail. I slowed even more and peered through the gloom, trying to make out what that yellow light was. When I saw the rooster tails sent up by the car ahead of me as he plowed through a shallow pond, I figured it out. There was significant water over the road, and a Department of Transportation truck had parked in front of it to warn oncoming motorists.

My watery entrance wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the car in front of me, but that may have been because of my death-grip on the steering wheel and my little-old-lady caution. In any event, I was grateful for the person who came out and set up the warning beacon. I know it’s his job, but that doesn’t lessen my appreciation.
After that, all the way home, I thought about people observing a hazard and putting out warning signs for those who were obliviously heading toward it, and I remembered the poem, "The Bridge Builder." First published in 1900, and written by Will Allen Dromgoole, it goes like this:

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."

(Retrieved from "")

My commute was long enough that my mind jumped from the bridge builder to the water system builder—my late father-in-law, Bill Adair. He was the personification of the statement, “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” He didn’t sermonize, didn’t talk much at all. But he was tireless in serving his family and his community. He was instrumental in putting in a water system for all the houses in the little town where he lived, and he spent the rest of his life as an unpaid keeper of that system. He read the meters, sent out statements, and fixed breaks in the pipes. Every night of the year he drove a mile out of town to turn off the manual pump, and every next morning, he turned it on so the people of the community would have water.

And, if there’d been a flood over the road, he would have been out there setting up warning signs.
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1 comment:

Monique said...

Liz, I had forgotten about that wonderful poem with such deep and profound meaning. Thank you for sharing it. I find I still love it as much as the first time I read it.