Hi, my name is Alanna-Marie, and I’m interested in building bridges.
“I thought you were a singer,” you’re thinking – and then you raise an eyebrow as you glance at my miniscule arms. “Bridges?” You mumble, as you avert your eyes and smile wanly.
Ok, sure. I write songs. But the reason I write songs is because they are the way I build bridges – bridges from me to you, from you to your friend, from your friend to his father, from his father to his brother, from his brother to his wife, and so on.
Everybody builds bridges. These bridges stretch over wide chasms. They pass across streams of division, rivers of frustration, oceans of forgiveness, swells of intimacy, channels of prejudices, lakes of loneliness, ravines of shame, mountains of joy, seas of vows, and many other beautifully formidable things. They all start on one side and end on another. Depending on where you stand on the bridge, your perspective may change throughout time. But God knows that we all need bridges. God knows, better than we, that there is no love without “other-ness”; that unless we have the mediation of another’s eyes, affirming us in our existence and sustaining us through our most trying times, we have: nothing. We have nothing but a ravine, an ocean, a mountain: and we cannot get across. We have nothing but ourselves and our building materials – and if we’re not building bridges, we’re building prisons.
People build bridges all the time, every day. When a man delights in conversation with a woman, because he knows she loves conversation for the sake of being heard and known, a bridge is built; and when he speaks to her with affection, that bridge is further solidified, and she in turn feels strong enough to build a bridge of tenderness towards him. When your mother packs you an enormous amount of food to take on your road trip, each item organized neatly and cheerfully, and she tears up as you go, even though she knows she’ll see you in a few weeks, a bridge is built. When a professor teaches his or her students how to think and conveys truth to them, remaining available for both questions and corrections, a bridge is built. When we do not demonize or scoff at others when they express opinions unlike our own, but rather seek to understand them more fully and respectfully, a bridge is built. When two people make one another laugh to the point of tears, a bridge is built.
Some people write books, and words are the stones they use to build bridges. Others write songs. Still others create technology, or they explore the power of mathematics, or they make phone-calls from a cubicle to help people figure out how to set up Life Insurance. Some drive taxis, or sew dresses, or dig ditches, or tend to the sick and dying in hospitals. All of these are ways that people build bridges to one another.
When we say, “Please forgive me,” with a sincere heart, a bridge is built. When we say, “I love you,” a bridge is built. When we say, “I need help,” a bridge is built. And when we say, “Thank you,” a bridge is built. The words, “I do,” encompass all of these other words, and they are capable of building a most miraculous bridge – one that mysteriously stretches out above time, rooted as it is in the divine.
Vulnerability is the cornerstone of every good bridge: it takes vulnerability to extend oneself toward another, to set your eyes on “the other side” and start building. It takes vulnerability to put forth the materials you’ve been given in the service of other people: people who will walk upon it, run upon it, lean against it, perhaps even scribble upon it. People do funny things on bridges – sometimes it takes them awhile to wander across, and on the way they might forget what they were doing in the first place and get distracted by examining the materials you’ve used to build it. Vulnerability can be quite painful, you see: but if your bridge is sincere, it will hold firm, even under the rigorous scrutiny of some of the people who will come across it. Oftentimes people scrutinize others when they’re afraid: vulnerability is threatening to them, because in their hearts they know that love is waiting for them on the other side. They don’t think they’re worthy of the prize that awaits beyond the surging waters, and so they pretend that the best thing to do is to remark on the shoddiness of the bridge. That buys them some more time while they think about whether or not they want to proceed across the bridge. The truth is, some people will never make it across certain bridges. Crossing a bridge takes courage, because it involves love. It’s easier to build prisons, which don’t involve other people, and therefore “apparently” do not involve risk – and some people will choose to do that, instead.
Sometimes we all choose the more cowardly thing and we give up on bridges. It’s easier, after all, and it’s “safer,” to just “look out for one’s self.” But the fact is that unless we raise our gifts to a higher level that involves self-donation, they tear us down to a lower one, and we end up lonely. We end up surrounded by everything “just the way we want it” – in a nice, neat, tiny cell with mirrors for walls. Ain’t nobody goin’ mess with your agenda – it’s flawless. All of the things you love about yourself: at your service, and no one else’s. Sounds dismal, doesn’t it?
You and I both build bridges. We build them together. As I build my bridge from this side, you reciprocate and come to meet me from your side. Stone upon stone, brick upon brick, vulnerability upon vulnerability. We gain ground as we lose ourselves at the service of one another. I have to relinquish my stones – gifts, forgiveness, time, gratitude, tenderness, perseverance – if I wish to make it over to you; and you in turn do the same. When you receive me, you love me. When I receive you, I love you.
My bridges are built out of songs – not all of them, but many of them. I write because I long to love and be loved, to know and be known. I am not interested in “getting to the top,” or signing a major record label deal. If those things happen, they’ll have to happen naturally, because I have no interest in hustling people or selling a “brand” (there’s no such thing as “insincere” art. Art springs from the person: not from an image of one). I cringe whenever I sense a possibility that people put me on a pedestal because I’m a “singer”, a title which often seems to be shrouded in unnecessary mystique. Sure, it’s good to rejoice and know that I’m “special”: but so are you, so is everyone. If not for the people who built bridges to me, bridges they let me help build and walk across, I wouldn’t have any reason to write, nor would I have the inspiration to do so. I love because I’ve been loved. I give because everything good that I possess has been given to me. I’ve learned how to build bridges to other people thanks to other people, and for that the only words I can say are, “Thank you.” Thanks be to God, the Author behind every creative movement.
If not for the bridges that have been thrown to me, I would know nothing of love. It takes tremendous courage to receive someone in their vulnerability – and that’s just what so many people have done for me, in listening to my songs and loving me in response.
So, that’s why I write, and that’s why I sing. I write and sing because I’m interested in building bridges.