Burning bridges.

The first bit of bad advice came disguised as good advice. Since then, all kinds of decisions that detour our journey through life have been made on the basis of “good advice.”

bridge-burn“Hey, how much damage can a piece of foam do? Tell the crew to prepare for re-entry.”

“Dallas is great this time of year. You should take the convertible.”

“Try it. It’s a little something I whipped up with Kool-Aid.”

Since we learned to stand upright we’ve been telling each other exactly the wrong thing to do. Take for example “don’t burn your bridges.” This is truly terrible advice. Sadly, we offer it when people we care about are on the threshold of a great opportunity that involves some risk. At a time when commitment to the cause is so important, we offer caution as a fellow traveller. We applaud a friend’s decision to cast the lines from the dock but at the same time we advise them to keep one foot on it.

Let’s be honest.

Anything that requires an active mind to be in two places at the same time is not going to produce the best result. The race car driver who sees an opportunity to pass before the next corner but reserves the option to follow his competitor through it is unlikely to enjoy either victory or a long life.

Before you get out the gasoline and matches, consider what makes us think about “burning a bridge” in the first place and what happens when we do.

Conventional wisdom says that bridges to the past should be preserved even in a state of decay. If they can’t be replaced or repaved, filling a few potholes and painting a rusted girder or two will do. On the other hand, the argument for setting the torch to the trestle and putting yesterday on the far side of a shark-filled and turbulent river of toxic tailings is a strong one. This is because in the real world, our lives tend to be largely unscripted, seemingly directionless and wary of roads that merge into a single lane.

Success, and more importantly joy, are powered by uncertainty and overreaching; not by reaching back. The long way around is more often than not the most memorable and mind-altering. Relinquishing the past re-affirms the future. What-might-be is unencumbered by what didn’t work or what could have worked better. There is no “B” plan. Tomorrow becomes a blank sheet of paper. Lust replaces longing. The real thing treads on the toes of the sure thing.

Sure, there’s a lot to be learned from the past. Mainly to put it in its place. To be seen but not heard, as it were. Or at least not listened to.

Take an inventory of the bridges you’ve built: not of wood and steel but of hope and help and longing. What do you gain by maintaining the link? What do you lose? Where do you go when going back ceases to be an option? “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” No you won’t. It’s gone. Burned to the dry creek bed.

“It’s all water under the bridge.” Not anymore. It’s all water over the bridge, or what’s left of it.

Eagle Don Henley wrote: “there’s nothing like the light from a burning bridge.” So true. There are different kinds of bridges. Some carry a toll, some swing and others open wide to a broad horizon of possibilities. The ones that will take you to the exciting if uncertain other side are those that have not been crossed before.

Find a match and get on with it.

12 years ago

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