Reflections: The Bridge Builder

Reflections: The Bridge Builder

By Julia Thompson, Ph.D.

Recently I’ve been seeking ways to facilitate spaces that intersect the technical and the heart. I eventually want to run retreats on the topic.

A few weeks ago, I met with two close friends with similar spiritual and engineering tendencies. I wanted to talk about doing a workshop together, building off the Courage and Renewal (C&R) framework. I talked through a current C&R facilitator in preparation.

We ended up talking through the poem, The Bridge Builder (below). This poem refers to an older man, who builds a bridge, to help those coming behind him bypass the difficulties that he faced.

I love this poem because it speaks to all of us who are creating a world, in hopes to help others and, in the process, help ourselves. We can use this poem as a way to talk about ourselves and the bridges we are building, both metaphorically and physically.

I want to build a bridge that supports individuals to live out their calling in life. Engineering is often not seen as a job that is connected to personal calling, and those who may see it as such rarely discern their work as one who is a minister might.

Yet, I argue much of engineering has a deep impact on the world. Engineers ought to see how their design, their analysis ,and work contributes to the world they seek to live. I believe only when all jobs are sacred, we can start to heal the world we are living in.

We are going to meet again next week, talk about another poem, and invite others to join.

What bridge are you building?

An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide. 
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!


Useful reflective prompts:

What part of the poem stuck out to you?

Who are you in this poem?

Where are you in this poem?

What is the chasm?

Who is the young man following behind?




Photo: “The Sunset Boulevard Bridge Spokane WA: from Empire Builder” by  Loco Steve license under CC2.0


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