It was a time of unrest, the scene was etched in the minds of seeing the funeral parade of both Presidential candidate, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968. Americans were at mid- passage of the Vietnam War, rising tensions were in the ebb and flow in this era, and a new surge of a quest for the “Age of Aquarius” had embarked as well. The soul of Paul Simon felt the lyrical heart of the nation as he penned the classic, “Bridge over troubled waters.” As he wrote in his New York apartment this timeless piece, the year after the assassinations, he did not know his transcript would transcend decades later for tumultuous times later for many. Often not just for national moments such as him performing it after 9/11, but for those who find themselves reaching for answers in their darkest points in life, this song has reached countless. Celebrities such as Elvis, Peggy Lee, The Supremes, Arthea Franklin, and those such as recently as Alisha Keys plus countless others have performed their rendition of this six time Grammy and Billboard winner melody. Simon shared later the song was not as others as he had to actively pursue to write it, instead it just came to him through his discontent and concern for that which surrounded him.
The word that stands out in this reflection of Simon and Garfunkel’s landmark hit is “bridge” in that it visualizes strength and crossing. Bridges bring countries together, such as the “Peace Bridge”, uniting the United States and Canada since 1927, with over five million each year utilizing it. As these thoroughfares are executed with precision, design, expertise for duration for safety and commerce. Example being one of the most well known, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California that was built during the depression. It is known to be one of the most expensive and having difficulties during its construction as well, but with longevity of performance. As in its early beginnings, suffering delay with an earthquake, being struck by a ship, thankfully having a safety net which saved nineteen. In fact, due to the risk, it was known to be called the “Halfway to Hell Club” while working on the bridge. Even with the safety features, unfortunately eleven passed during its construction. It’s unique fog horns are distinct in this particular bridges design. In 1937, 200,000 were said to cross by foot, pushing baby strollers, skating, even on stilts across this bright orange feat that had been painlessly toiled over for its grand opening. Point being, bridges during the course of history such as the Golden Gate, and others such as the Caravan Bridge built by the Romans, in 850 B.C which is still standing, have thousands of years of duration. Their pillars of strength, craftsmanship, integrity of workmanship and commitment to design completion all combined make these infrastructures last for decades. They do however need maintenance to ensure safety and reliability.
Oxford defines troubled waters as, “a difficult situation or time.” Webster goes on to add, “a confusing situation.” When one thinks of a bridge, you visualize crossing over or connecting two parts together. As in Simon’s lyrics, “When times get rough, and friends just can’t be found, Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down.” In life we rely on our faith, family and friends to steady us during turmoil and trials, we have substance to guide us through.
As it goes on, “When you are on the street, When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you, I’ll take your part, When darkness comes and pain is all around, Like a bridge over troubled waters...I will lay you down.” It is in the darkest hours, we reach out for that strength to cross over to where there is hope and light. We want to be on steady footing, not on an old rickety, roped bridge in a blustery storm, not most likely. All of us want to know the next step won’t land us in dark, uncharted waters.
May we find that peace from the comfort of others that can be that pillar of strength during this time of unrest. Let us be that bridge of serenity and rest for those who need it. Be the hand that reaches over to the other side and helps those across to make that journey of hope for a new tomorrow, Together we can build bridges that last for centuries of promises of truth and light.
“Come let us build bridges of love with each other with the cement of kindness, pillars of trust”.
- Debasish Mridha
Thoughts from the Countryside bench