Vocation of An Old Man…
Being a Bridge Builder

I have written articles for a newspaper in Dixon, IL for a dozen years and for my web page for twice that amount of time. The topics have varied, but I have written scores of articles about poems or prose that I memorized in high school. Every semester, we were required to memorize a hundred lines. I absolutely hated that requirement. However, after graduating from high school, hardly a day goes by without me thinking about lines memorized nearly six decades ago.

Case in point. I have a former colleague with whom I worked decades ago. We just touched base recently. What is interesting is that we discuss issues by means of three different venues: she writes letters, I do videos, and we chat on other occasions. Strangely, we use that montage to catch up with decades of happenings in our lives since we last worked together.

However, my use of videos tends to analyze every morsel of facts whether or not they are relevant. In the past couple of months, she has heard every detail about my family in Myanmar. In a recent video, I was rambling on and on about Ti Ti, Snow, and Fatty, my three granddaughters.

Fatty, Ti Ti, and Snow

Ko Ko, the girls, Moh Moh, and PaPa Al

Even though I don’t plan the content of the videos, a reoccurring theme is my love for them and their parents. In the video, I was attempting to restate something about which my friend is fully aware. Searching for another way of expressing myself, I just happened to recall a poem by Will Allen Dromgoole. I was so excited that I recited about half of it pretty close to verbatim to my friend. This is the complete poem without mistakes.

The Bridge Builder.

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 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 you this bridge at the evening tide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been 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."

A bridge in Scotland

There I was basking in the glow of an achievement that no one who graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 1961 could do today, but I did it. I was actually caught off guard regarding just how well I did. In fact, my colleague had to listen again to my recitation of parts of the poem. My video was a truthful moment about my three granddaughters mixed with my awkwardness attempting to recall the entire poem. Additionally, I did learn something about life. If you want to impress someone about yourself, do not recite a poem that goes back to when you were a “fair-haired youth.”

However, I am fully cognizant that I have morphed from a “fair-haired youth” to an old gray head man. Aside from realizing the obvious that I’m an old guy, I am haunted about why I am driven so much. I see others younger than me who walk around life in slow motion, and, often, the motion is directed inwardly. Why am I so driven? What’s with the bridge?

This is a haunting. For some reason, I can’t settle for an answer that is, from my perspective, incomplete. Dancing with death is inexplicably one of the greatest gifts that I have ever received. Most of you will question that statement and think that it is an odd comment. However, it is true. Doing the dance caused me to come alive…as in ALIVE. I don’t wish to revisit my traumatic brain injury, but it taught me well the first time. I do not want to go through dealing with metastatic prostate cancer again either. Having said that, both were blessings that can’t be learned without doing the dance.

Regardless of whether you are a dancer or not, remember what Randy Pausch said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the game.” Being a bridge builder is rewarding to those that come after you. Essentially, you are doing it for them. Having said that, remember that it is in giving that we get.