Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Bridgetender

At the far end of edge of a bridge spanning the Delaware River between New Hope and Lambertville sits in a booth that is just large enough, perhaps, for two chairs.  Sometimes, crossing the bridge on foot, I've peeked in the window, wondering what it's like to sit there in the same spot for hours day in and day out, watching the river pass, watching the people pass, confined to a space just slightly larger than your body.

Today, I heard an interview with a woman who left an office job where she worked for 14 years, realizing that if her life ended suddenly, she didn't want to have woken up that morning not wanting to go to work.  The job she took: tending a bridge.

"The pay was terrible, the benefits worse," she confessed.  But what she loved about the job were the intangible benefits: the cultivation of vigilance, patience, and attention.  She became accustomed to the rhythm of the days and the seasons, seeing the same joggers and fishermen, people she knew intimately, despite their complete anonymity. She would overhear people's lives: the marriage proposals, the arguments, the deep conversations unaware of an observer.  It made her appreciate the world in a way she'd never done before.  

I wonder how many bridgetenders are left, now that so many of them are automated, or built to accommodate larger boats, or don't open at all, because they no longer get that kind of water traffic. It seems like the sort of vocation that you don't see much any more.  Which is sort of sad, given how important that role of watcher can be.

Some days, I'm a bridgetender, too.  Though I'm plenty busy, at work, the students move past me through the semesters and the seasons that I feel more keenly towards the end of the year, when final exams and graduation looms; my job is to make sure that they can get to the other side safely, that the obstacles in their way are removed (or at least that they have some means of getting past), that they have someone watching over them, someone they might not even notice.  I overhear private moments, the kinds of things people say when they cross a bridge, when they think their voices will be carried away by the wind and the current.
Maybe it's not so bad, the sitting still.

What bridges do you tend?  Would you be a bridgetender if you had a chance? Who are the tenders of your bridges?
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  1. I heard that interview the other morning and thought it was fascinating. I already put the book on hold at the library for when it is available.

  2. I have found some amazing watchers in the ALI community. Maybe I have even become a watcher of a few, too.

    Gorgeous post.

  3. I haven't encountered many of those bridges in my life so I didn't even realize this was a job. I my does sound like the kind of job I say I'm going to get when my own work and life feels like too much. 😀 There is value in observing, for sure. Roads and freeways and parking lots and bridges fascinate me because we are usually moving through them on the way somewhere else. Life is always supposed to be happening elsewhere. But life happens everywhere including when we are moving through. Not only is it good to have someone observing you, it's good to observe yourself and your life.


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