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2007 01 02
A Bridge Made for Wishing

A bridge knits the sides of the valley together and gives shape to the journeys that pass through it. The eminent geographer Yi-Fu Tuan describes bridges as fundamentally urban structures that symbolize transition and journey between places and worlds, a view shared by the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who wrote that a bridge gathers together the four elements of earth, sky, gods, and mortals and "initiates the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro, so that they may get to other banks and in the end, as mortals, to the other side."

In the Toronto novel Raymond and Hannah, Stephen Marche avers that overpasses are "built for confused anticipation." At these junctures the roar of travel silences us for a moment, and passing traffic rocks and buffets us as we emerge from the highway onto the bridge that has just crossed it. Riding the curve of the cloverleaf, we glide in every direction almost at once and end up too close to where we begin. Our journeys make us recursive, and we realize, too late, that we have forgotten to make a wish.

Because I live in the Junction, I am reminded daily that bridges are made for wishing. In this part of the city it is impossible to travel out without passing under and sometimes over as many as half a dozen bridges. Sometimes, especially when biking under the double underpass at Dupont and Dundas West or on Bloor just before Lansdowne, I wish not to be thrown into the bridge abutment by a passing car. But my favourite bridge for wishing under is the one on Runnymede just north of Dundas. Because the road dips like a tunnel and trains pass regularly above it, this bridge accommodates almost every wishing ritual remembered dimly from childhood.

You might remember those wishing rituals. When in vehicles as children we would lift our feet and hold our breath as we passed over a bridge, or, if we were on foot, would hop and skip every seventh step, and add to these embodied rituals the incantation of an unspoken wish. If a train passed over a bridge while we were underneath it, our wishes were sure to come true. At the very least they would be carried along with other wishes and be disseminated like pollen. And while, as an adult, I have forgone and even forgotten most of the superstitions of childhood, I still wish under railway bridges. And if it is the passing train that absorbs my wish and carries it along or merely the act of wishing that makes it resonant, often enough I have found my wishes made manifest and fulfilled.

And what of these wishes, if we still remember to make them we we grow older? Do they shift to accommodate our expanding desires or are they, at heart, essentially unaltered? In my own life I have found that my wishes at railway bridges have shifted from the specific and the material toward increasingly generalized statements about justice and perspective of which I am not the recipient but the agent. And in this sense they are no longer wishes but instead have become declarations. And often enough, these declarations have required the crossing of terrain, just like the trains I used to wish upon in the course of their journeys. Now those journeys are mine, too. And perhaps, as I travel across the city's bridges on my journeys, the wishes of a child standing underneath are passed up to me to carry along with my own.

How do you wish, and what for?
[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 01/02 at 11:48 AM

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