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?