2014-09-03 / Opinion


Let some bridges burn
Graduate student, CMU

I made big changes in my life in the last six months, changes that have made me feel more whole than I have for years. Some of my friends and colleagues surprised me with the strength of their support, while others just shook their heads, perplexed and perhaps genuinely concerned for my sanity. But a devastating few individuals went beyond simple bafflement into such condescension and personal indignation that I can no longer confidently call them friends.

I am reminded of a stanza from the bittersweet song “Both Sides, Now,” by Joni Mitchell:

We tend to want to explore all of our avenues and horizons without cost. But it is a harsh and inevitable truth that when we start to move forward and make alterations in our lives, even positive ones, we must leave other paths (and people) behind. It would be nice if those paths were to remain open, waiting quietly for us to return, but as Joni understood, life does not work that way. It is an equal exchange; to gain, we must lose. The bridges connecting us to our pasts burn, sometimes before we even realize what is happening.

Burning bridges is often viewed as something negative and heartbreaking. That is why we all take such extreme lengths to avoid it. In a usually innocent attempt to glean acceptance, we pick and choose the parts of ourselves to show to the outside world, twisting and manipulating our identities to fit more easily into the worldviews of others. What we display is not necessarily a lie, but it certainly is not the whole truth: It is just the fragment that we think will be most respected by those who surround us. To some extent, we are all Eleanor Rigbys, “wearing the face that [we keep] in a jar by the door” (the Beatles, Revolver, 1966).

If I have learned anything this last year, it is that when you suffocate parts of yourself, you risk extinguishing all of yourself. Perhaps we need to stop viewing burning bridges as a destructive event, and instead embrace it as an opportunity to clear out the rubble from our lives, to discover in a trial by fire which relationships are strong and which were weak to begin with.

Some bridges are built of stone and mortar, and some of wood—good for a few years, but never enduring. When you find your true self, you will begin to burn brightly, and those rickety wooden bridges might just smolder as you pass them by. Watching this happen can be painful, but it is important to remember two things: 1) Most often, it is not you who held the torch to the ropes, but the person on the other side, and 2) A bridge that you are capable of burning probably would have fallen apart on its own given time. It was a fragile thing, and it was built on a lie.

People who take it upon themselves to be personally offended by life choices that do not even affect them are not real friends at all and never were. They loved you not for who you are, but for who they wanted you to be for them. The individuals who are truly worth your love and respect are built of sturdier materials, and they will continue to give support even in face of the occasional flames.

It is easy to become paralyzed at a crossroads—to not move at all, if movement means that there is no going back. But do not extinguish your own brightly burning fire just to appease someone else. Skip the inevitable decay and let that bridge burn: The ropes tying you to an unhealthy path may just burn with it.

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