The Bridge

an allegory

There was once a man and a woman who lived alone on opposite sides of a deep chasm. He lived in the forest on his side and made his living as a carpenter. She lived in the meadow on her side and spent her days painting pictures of the wildflowers that grew around her. He fell deeply in love with her the first time he saw her across the divide.

“Hello!” he called to her.
“Why, hello!” she called back.

The very sound of her voice filled him with acute longing. He desired to be with her there on her side of the chasm, to walk with her among the flowers. But no matter which direction along his side he walked, he could find no way across.

Each day they would meet at the narrowest point and exchange words. In short time, she came to love him as deeply as he loved her. She too wished to be with him. As days passed, their love grew and they became soul mates. He would bring her flowers and show them to her from his side and she would smile from hers and say how beautiful they were.

In time, the woman began setting up her easel to paint the man holding the flowers so that she might have something of him to keep with her. In this way, the two shared their hearts and became lovers in spirit.

One day, while cutting timbers for his carpentry, the man had an epiphany. He would build a bridge across the chasm so that he could be with his beloved. At once, he began felling the trees of his forest. With care he cut the branches, removed the bark, and planed the logs into lumber. For weeks at a time, the woman would not see her lover at the chasm’s edge, but could hear the percussion of his axe and the rasp of his saw as he set to work preparing the materials for his bridge.

When they did see each other, she was hesitant to complain of his absences because she knew that this bridge would some day bring them together. Yet some afternoons as she painted, she would have to think very hard to remember small things like the color of his hair or the particular slant of his shoulder.

One by one the trees of his forest fell. One by one the days became weeks and the weeks became months. The ache of his heart spurred him on. Throughout seasons, he pushed himself to create a store pile of timber with which to make his bridge. Times he wished to be at the chasm shouting sweet words to his lover would be spent instead felling another tree, or planing the surface of another pole, or whittling branches into pegs. This he would do secure in the knowledge that all would be justified the moment he could hold his beloved in his arms.

Years passed. The carpenter’s forest slowly dwindled as his passion for building the bridge grew. Every trip he made to carry lumber to the edge of the chasm brought him closer to the day that his bursting heart would find solace in her embrace. And although her easel still stood, the woman rarely painted him anymore for she grew weary of waiting for the brief glimpses of her man as he came to drop off another load of boards. So fleeting were his visits, she barely had time to lift her brush before his back was to her as he returned for another load.

The cycle of seasons continued as the man began constructing his bridge. The woman would shout across to him about the ache in her breast, the desire to see him holding flowers again, the need for him to take breaks and stand still so that she might come to know his features once more. She became deeply lonely and incurably distraught. At night, she would lay among her wildflowers dreaming of this man she once loved.

In the morning, she would call “Hello!” to him, but the sound of his hammer would drown her aging voice. Periodically, he would glance in her direction and smile at the thought of waking in her arms, frolicking among the flowers, and dancing with her to the sound of crickets at twilight. He placed each board with tenderness, knowing that the bridge was a symbol of his undying love for her.

He toiled endlessly, and in time, the bridge began to take shape. At first a step, then a railing, and then gradually, a sweeping arch formed upon which he stood hammering pegs into holes drilled with precise loving care.

Each day, she would make her way to the edge of the chasm to see his progress. The pain she had endured began to subside as she saw that her years of waiting were not without reward. Tears filled her eyes as she saw for the first time just how majestic the bridge was. Tying back her graying hair, she once more put brush to canvass. With gentle strokes, she began to paint her lover standing on the bridge. It was a masterpiece of emotive detail, each board, each shadow a testament to the sacrifice the bridge had come to represent.

And as the years continued to pass, the man’s hammer grew heavier, his swinging arm moved slower as his age took its toll. She waited dutifully, wordlessly, painting his advance. Very soon now, she would think to herself, our love will be complete.

The morning of the last day his bridge was to be finished, the man’s heart flitted within his chest like the wings of a spring bird. He made his way gingerly now to the bridge and carrying the final load of timber, set about his final stages. With a fierce sense of pride and desire, he stepped for the first time upon his lover’s side of the chasm. And for the first time in years, he looked up to realize that he did not recognize the place where he stood. In front of him, towered the trees of a new forest, a forest that had grown while his eyes were studying the angles and joints of his bridge.

He called for his soul mate, called proudly announcing his arrival. When he received no answer, the carpenter ventured forth to find her. And he did. She was lying in repose on a bed of sweet grass with delicate strands of wildflowers braided in her hair, her eyes closed. He knelt toward her with tears filling his eyes as he realized that she was in the deep sleep of death.

He held her to his chest, rocking her softly, and cried. And as he looked across at his side of the chasm, he saw something else he had not recognized during the long seasons of his labor. The forest that he had once called home, the one he had cut down to make his bridge was now a thriving meadow of beautiful wildflowers. Set next to the bridge was his lover’s easel. Upon it stood a picture of the bridge more beautiful than he could have built it. And standing hand in hand upon the bridge were two beings of light smiling into each others eyes. He held his dead lover and cried aloud and his aging heart burst with bittersweet sadness. “Hello,” he said quietly as he joined her in silent sleep.