Chapter to Chapter

Burning Bridges


     A long time ago, someone modified the phrase “burning bridges” to mean that you have done something so that the people you left behind want nothing to do with you. While that’s the common meaning, I’ve been thinking a lot about its other contexts. We can think about someone leaving a place, a situation, a relationship, and purposely making sure that any passage back to that previous time, that previous location, cannot be retraced. Using it most certainly implies that we want to sever ties with others, that we willingly choose to make sure that some things from our past remain in our past and that we should never want to return. “Burning bridges” often refers to a negative act, a willingness to cut a relationship completely off. There are times in which we are so mistreated, in which we have been ignored or wronged, situations in which we have been used. In those times, even a modicum of self-respect causes a person to stand up and say “no more.”   Many people suffer real abuse, find themselves to be puppets for a cruel puppet master, or feel that their very personhood has been violated. In those cases, I totally understand dousing that bridge with gasoline, fitting it with several bombs, and blowing it sky-high.  I know quite a few people who live their entire lives burning every bridge they travel. By no means am I condoning such an activity. However, there are times in which it is appropriate. 

     Burning bridges isn’t always an act of temporal terrorism. Many times, the burning of the bridge is not a choice: the people on the other side of the bridge burn it as you walk away. Sometimes, the bridge becomes a victim of spontaneous combustion. The situation itself is so toxic, so long-lasting, so frustrating, that just the act is moving on destroys any chance of returning to that which is past.  That’s really the concept of closed chapters.

     Moving from one situation in life to another dictates that some chapters will be closed as others are opened. However, just because chapters open doesn’t mean that everything else preceding them is slammed shut. There are many parts of the past that continue into the future. We have direct links to major events and important people from years gone by. We also live with reoccurring echoes of choices we have made, paths we have chosen, and blessings that we have experienced. We move on day to day, month to month, year to year. There are roads that we travel and bridges that we cross. Although some of those bridges provide us a clear view of what we left behind, inevitably, some of those bridges burn—just because they were used. 

     Often, it’s the unplanned burning that’s the most painful. As we go about the act of living, life throws us major difficulties. Within the past few months, I’ve had many friends and relatives face major life-altering events. Illness and death appear as unwelcomed guests, but they still take up their abode. We all have dear people in our lives deal who endure difficulty and pain. I hurt for them and their families. Yet, I know that as days go by, each of us eventually deals with the same tragedies and pain. Our chapters come at different times on the calendar, but they come.  And with death, bridges are burned in ways that can’t be repaired. There’s no more sitting around and laughing about the past with our loved ones, no more asking for advice, no more picking up the phone to hear those familiar voices. That bridge exists no more during this life, this entire manuscript of our own lives. The bridge has been burned and removed. 

     I’m not urging us to resist burning bridges in our lives. On the contrary, my hope is that we look at where we are and recognize that in the future, very permanent changes will overtake us all, changes that will make us look back and wonder why we allowed ourselves to spend years in painful situations, years allowing ourselves to be used, years in which we were unhappy—just because we didn’t want to make waves, didn’t want to hurt the feelings of those who have no problem hurting ours, didn’t want to burn bridges that we will realize much later on should have been torched long ago.