“PEOPLE don’t like crossing the bridge to the other side. They stay on their side of the bridge, we stay on our side,” advised a local pastor years ago, before we moved to Washington State’s Puget Sound area. He added, “That’s just the culture, the way things are around here.”
Why do people prefer their side of the bridge? What is it about crossing a bridge that separates us from them? What happens when we do cross?
Crossing the Bridge
For four years, I lived and worked on what’s called “the Eastside.” Two floating bridges connect the Eastside and downtown Seattle. I just got a new job and it’s on the other side of the bridge. Though only 10 miles away, downtown Seattle/South Lake Union feels like worlds apart from where I used to work in suburban Redmond. Tall buildings, narrow one-way streets, and the ever-present Space Needle frame the landscape.
I work in one of those tall buildings now – the one with no parking. I used to work 10 minutes from home; now my commute is a lot longer. Going to work now means a daily hustle to find a ride – a combination of bus, vanpool or crowd-sourced car pool.
Crossing the bridge is more than just a physical move. It means entering a new culture. At work, the people, the language, and the way things are done differ from where I’m from.
The Other Side
My new commute reminds me of crossing ethnic and cultural barriers. As the local pastor said, people prefer their side of the bridge. That’s just the way things are. What’s true for crossing a physical bridge rings true for people crossing ethnic and cultural differences.
I’m Chinese-Filipino-American. There are cultural things I prefer – like being understated, not showy. I value food and relationships – usually together. I honor those older than me and have always seen myself as part of a larger community.
The other side may not share my values, practices and experiences. Crossing the bridge that separates me from those of a different ethnicity and culture takes effort. It disrupts my routine.
But it’s more than just a physical inconvenience. It means engaging a different culture. My heart, mind and spirit have to be involved. Above all, I have to be open to this: my life mingling with theirs.
Why go to the other side? Why not just stay where I am? Why disrupt my routine? It’s far easier to stay with my tribe.
My Reason for Crossing
In college, I had the rare experience of being in close community with people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. My campus Christian fellowship was not perfect, but we were deeply bound to each other, and to this day, many of us are still friends.
For me, it was like my soul experiencing a beautiful piece of intricate and expensive art, and I have since spent my life looking for or replicating the same piece of work. Most of the time, I fail. But beauty has a way of capturing the imagination and not releasing the soul from its grip.
Czeslaw Milosz’ poem, “One More Day,1” says this about beauty:
“And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil
Only beauty will call to them and save them
So that they still know how to say: this is true and that is false.”
I long to experience again the beauty of people from different cultures and ethnicities with deep, genuine love for each other.
When We Cross the Bridge
Since I started crossing the bridge, the best parts of my day are now my shared commute time with co-workers. Via vanpool or carpool, I enjoy mingling my life with theirs – getting to know new people, hearing their stories, learning what it’s like in their world. It’s very different than my old solitary drive to work.
I am amazed that my co-workers, too, have crossed the bridge. They want to know me. They don’t see me as an outsider. Rather, they see me as part of their tribe.
This is what happens when we cross the bridge to the other side. The potential to be a part of another’s tribe. Exchanging disruption and inconvenience for a different glimpse of humanity.
1 Milosz, Czeslaw, “One More Day,” in The Collected Poems 1931-1987 (New York: Ecco Press, 1998)
Photo credit: “520 Bridge” by Stewsnews, flickr, 2003