Crossings, Old and New

A fable:

Once upon a time there was a bridge across a mighty river. The river was wild and couldn’t be crossed any other way; even this bridge had to stand against many floods and surges and often there were times that it seemed it might not make it. But each time, the keepers of the bridge explained to all those who dwelled nearby that there was no other way to cross the river – if the bridge were not kept in good repair, then this way would be lost, and so people contributed their time and wealth to the bridge’s upkeep.

After weathering enough storms, people stopped questioning the bridge – it had proven its worth many times over and stood the test of time.

The bridge was so stable, however, that it eventually outlasted the river. Time and water have a way of eroding the landscape, and what was once a mighty but well-defined river slowly became a wide, meandering wetland. It now stretched over many miles but was no more than a few feet deep at its deepest; the bridge still stood in the middle but connected nothing to nothing.

An enterprising young person one day proposed the building of a ferry, broad and stable, which could easily take people from one side of the wide wetland to the other. Because her idea was new, she anticipated that many people would attack it, but she had an answer for all their misguided objections. The ferry was a good idea; it was simply unusual and she understood that people wouldn’t comprehend the value and she would have to convince folks of it.

Some of the people began to be convinced of the idea and liked the prospect of the improvement it would make to their lives. And then one of them spoke out and said “We could easily afford the ferry with the money we save not paying for that bridge’s upkeep any more.”

Though this was a wise idea, the man that spoke out was savagely ridiculed. Stop paying for the bridge? Was this man insane? The bridge has stood the test of time, it has proven itself over and over, all those who questioned it in the past were proven wrong until eventually they stopped questioning it, and the bridge has remained the same all those years!

The bridge had remained the same. But the river had changed. Changed so much that the bridge was a useless institution, but time is a stalwart guardian. The man who spoke out and the woman who dreamed of a ferry both raised this point – that the bridge had earned the respect of history but was no longer needed – but were once again shouted down. The people who did the shouting had no arguments in favor of the bridge, but their loyalty was unshaken nonetheless.

The bridge had existed so long as an institution that people had forgotten how to defend it; they simply knew that they should, because they always had. It had been so long since anyone questioned it that no one knew the answers anymore, but they answered regardless – with shouts and insults. None shouted louder than the bridge keepers, who had long built lives and livelihoods around maintaining a monument to a world that no longer existed anywhere but in the minds of those that paid.

There is no end to this story, because it repeats again and again forever. There is always an old bridge to nowhere defended by those who have forgotten reason and replaced it with tradition, and always a new ferry going somewhere unexplored and captained by people ready to defend it.

Pick the ferry.

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