Bridging the Gap
By Lauren Green
Solid footing lies just ahead … usually.
Who knew that a frankfurter and a side of goulash could wreck such havoc on a digestive system?
During a recent family trip to Austria, I sampled the traditional combo at a village cafe. About an hour later and with little warning, my lunch pivoted from delicious to devious and threatened an immediate and hostile exit from my body. Luckily for me (and everyone around me), an unmarked bathroom was just around the corner inside a nearby monastery.
Looking back, touring that centuries-old fortress was one of my family’s favorite memories from that trip, but to me, the monastery ranked a distant second compared to its fortuitously placed bathroom. As far as I was concerned, finding it at that very moment was an outright miracle — perhaps one of many witnessed by those ancient cloister walls.
A few days later, my family and I discovered another cafe in a different small village. Not long after we sat down, a group of white-haired men came walking around a corner adjacent to the cafe. They were dressed in starched military garb and closely followed by a company of uniformed musicians. “A parade,” we thought; how serendipitous.
We jumped up, phones in hand, ready to take pictures. Our delight was squelched, though, when a man, walking alone, turned that same corner. He was carrying a large pole adorned with fresh flowers. Attached just under the teeming bouquet was a photograph indicating that this was no parade. It was a funeral procession.
Fumbling to our seats, we looked at each other, mutually astonished by how quickly our read of the situation had changed. In the instant it took to register that photograph, my family went from blithely sipping our Aperol spritzes to joining alongside the locals in paying homage to the life of a complete stranger.
For most of our family trips, I am the official self-appointed Travel Planner. It’s a job I take seriously. I spent weeks meticulously organizing that vacation to Austria. I researched, dreamed, speculated and arranged. Yet, even with all of my groundwork, the possibility that we would find ourselves in the middle of a full-fledged community cortege never once crossed my mind. (Additionally, it goes without saying that I was woefully unprepared for the frankfurter/goulash incident.) Truthfully, no amount of planning can accurately predict what’s behind every blind corner.
This can be nerve-wracking. When I was younger, I tried to overcompensate for uncertainty. Mostly, I burned far too much energy looking for concrete answers to all the unanswered questions in front of me. What is my purpose? Do I have a soulmate out there? What will it be like to have children?
Some of those early questions have been answered, but more keep coming from around other corners. What will my neck look like in 20 years? Will I be content with my life choices? What kind of nursing home will my children find for me? When I start wringing my hands over an unanswerable question, my husband tells me to stop trying to cross a bridge too early. When the time is right, he reasons, the bridge will be there.
I admit, history has proved this to be true. When I think back on past experiences, I recognize bridges of all shapes and sizes. They don’t necessarily guide me to all the answers to my questions, but they do provide me with a solid place to put my foot (or head) in order to respond to the unexpected and unimaginable. Even in Austria, they were there, one materializing in the form of a public restroom in answer to an over-confident lunch order and another to stoke the imagination necessary to reframe the macabre into a poignant moment we won’t soon forget. Corners and bridges, it seems, go hand in hand; and unlike frankfurters and goulash, it’s a combination that works.
Now that the world is resuming a sense of normalcy, the calendar is open and my summer plans are in full swing. I am imagining big trips, beautiful sights and, yes, even gastronomically daring menus. Yet, as optimistic as this may sound, I know that not everything will turn out the way I envision. Mysteries lie in wait around the corners ahead. Even so, I will do my best to avoid traveling on paths forged by worry. They lead nowhere. Instead, I will trust that bridges will show up at each and every corner, in their own good time, planned in advance just for me.