Tuesday, March 5, 2019

A Dream: The song of the bridge...

Joan Simon [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
This story came to me in a dream...

In this dream I am a young man, an apprentice to a priest of a sort.  When the dream begins I am face to face with my teacher, who has just asked me to take care of his village while he travels on an important errand in another town.  I am uncertain that I am ready to take on this responsibility.  I tell him I do not feel ready, that I do not know the people of this village well, and to please find someone else.  I list a half dozen reasons why I am not able to do this, but he does not relent.  

He assures me it is only for a couple of weeks. 

He tells me all will be well and not to worry. 

It is raining when he leaves.  I walk him to the bridge over the river that borders the town.  He again attempts to reassure me.  He reminds me that there are no celebrations to tend to at this time of year, no one in the village is dying, no one is preparing to give birth.  At most I’ll be asked to reassure a few heartbroken adolescents or listen to a parent’s concerns for their children. 
He taps my chest with two fingers and tells me that I should trust his teaching and what my heart tells me. 

I stand in the rain as he crosses the bridge and makes his way up and over the next hill, disappearing into the woods.  I stay and listen to the rain fall on stones of the road.   I notice the water is high in the river.  Finally, I turn away and head back into town to the small cottage my teacher lives in.  I hang my cloak, make a cup of tea, and sit by the fire until I am dry. 

I awaken in the morning to sun shining in the window and a knock at the door. I am told that sometime during the night the bridge has disappeared.  

Thinking of the high river water I ask if it was washed out.  No.  It is just gone.  Vanished like it had never been there at all, and the road no longer goes to the river’s edge. 

I go to see for myself and all is as the villagers say.  There is no bridge and the road curves back into town instead of reaching for the river.  Even the road on the other side is gone. 

Several people from the village are gathering.  “What do we do now?” They ask.    They tell me that the river runs for miles, upon miles and only gets deeper.  The village is surrounded by cliffs too steep to climb.  This is the only way in or out of town. 

My first thought is to build another bridge but when I make the suggestion, I’m told no one knows how to do that.  “But who built this bridge?  Who maintains it and repairs it?”  I ask.

The people of the village shake their heads and shrug their shoulders.  I am told the bridge has always been there.  As has the road that crosses it.  No one has had to fix it or repair it.  It has just stood there for as long as anyone can remember. 

I ask if there is anyone who might know how to build a new one.  It is suggested that I ask some of the elder folk of the village.  They might know.  But I am cautioned that they are full of old stories no one wants to listen to.  The small crowd disperses and I’m again alone by the water. 

I find I am a little annoyed that the people of the village don’t seem to care much about solving the problem of replacing the bridge and that it is left to me, a person who until yesterday had not spent even one night here.  I want to just walk away in frustration but worry about disappointing my teacher.  I go to seek the stories of the town elders. 

I spend an afternoon with an old woman who lives on a farm at the edge of town.  She tells me a story about her first love who she still remembers fondly, but she has no story about the bridge.  She sends me to the former town cobbler, who is full of tales of the lands all of his hand made boots have walked but he is also without any stories of the bridge.  He tells me to seek the old smith who must surely know something.  The next morning smith welcomes me to his home, feeds me lunch, and tells me of the time he made a sword for a travelling knight but the only thing he knows of the bridge is that it is older than even his father.  It has always been. 

As I make ready to leave, he tells me there is still one person yet who might know.  He does not know their name, but they are rumored to be as old as the bridge if not older.  They live in a tree by the edge of the wood.  

I ask which tree.  The stories say I will know it when I see it, he tells me.  I look to the sky and turn to leave thinking I might find this tree while there is still light.  The smith puts his hand on my shoulder to stop me.

“There are things you must bring with you,” he says. "The stories say that you must bring food to share and drink to pour.  You must bring something warm for the tree dweller and hay for the horse. You must also remember to knock and ask politely before climbing the tree.

The sky is now dark and I go to my teacher’s home to prepare.  I leave the next day with a sack containing bread, cheese, and a bottle of water from the well.  I also carry my only blanket and a bundle of hay on my back.  I walk until I reach the edge of the wood.  I see no tree different from any of the others.  I try to enter the wood, but the underbrush is too thick. 

I am tired and so I sit with my back against a boulder.  The sun warms me making me sleepy and I drift off.  When I awaken I see an ancient tree not more than a few yards from me.  It is afternoon and the sun is no longer overhead.  I wonder how I did not see the tree before and pass it off to being a trick of the morning light.  
The tree is tall, with grayish bark.  It is not like the pines of the surrounding forest.  It has broad green leaves.  There is a horse standing at its base.  I approach and lay the bundle of hay on the ground.  The horse begins to eat.  I stand at the trees base and look up.  Feeling a bit foolish I knock on its rough bark.  

“Hello?” I call out. “May I please climb this tree?  I have food, and drink, and a warm blanket.” 
In an instant I find myself among the branches of the tree; branches far broader than they appeared to be from the ground.  They are wide enough walk upon without fear of falling.  I look down thinking I must have misjudged the tree’s size, but the branches are so thick I can’t see the ground.  

“Thank you for feeding my horse.” 

I turn around to see a person of great age seated at a table.  Upon the table is a laid meal of bread and cheese.  Two wooden cups are on the table and the jug of water sits next to them.  

The tree dweller motions for me to sit.  

I take a seat and uncork the water jug, pouring into their glass first, then filing my own.  We eat in silence.  

When the meal is done, I ask about the bridge.  Do they know how to replace it?

The tree dweller sighs and shakes their head. They tell me the bridge is gone because the town suffers from an old wound.  The people of the village once came together to heal that wound and when they did the bridge appeared.  As long as the town continued to live in community, to care for one another, to celebrate and mourn together the bridge would remain.  But they have forgotten the wound and the ways to heal it.  And so, the bridge has gone. 

“How do I bring it back?” I ask, “There must be a way.”

“They must remember…” The Tree Dweller says.

I then find myself standing again at the foot of the tree.  The horse has wandered away.  The sun is gone, and it has begun to rain again.  

I am again annoyed.  I am bothered that my teacher left me here with no knowledge of this town’s history.  I am angry with him for going off when he must have known this was a difficult time for the town.  I am frustrated with the answer given to me by the tree dweller.  How am I supposed to make a whole village remember a story that not even the eldest residents remember?  And now I am cold and wet to boot.  

I head home filled with frustration. 

In the morning I take a walk around town and tell people that there will be a gathering by the hill by the town well.  I tell them that I will share what I have learned.  I also tell them to bring food to share, and wood to build a fire.  I think that perhaps if they share time and food together, they might reconnect with one another. 

That afternoon I wait at the hill as they gather.  No one seems to have remembered to bring food or wood for a fire.  They seem irritated.  They were told there would be a feast and warmth.  I stand and try to calm them.  

I tell them of my visit with the tree dweller.  I ask about the story of the wound. They laugh.  Some are angry.  How could I expect them to remember some old, forgotten story about a wound?  This is foolishness.  They can’t believe that I was left to watch over them.  Some begin to wander off.
Not knowing what else to do I climb the hill.  When I reach the top, I drop to my knees and press my palms to the ground.  Recalling my teachers words I ask my heart what I should do.  

Please…please…I ask.  What am I to do?  How can this be fixed?  How can these people be brought together?

I begin to hear a song.  A high voice singing.  It is my voice.  

My voice sings a story of a town at war with a town by the sea on the other side of the mountains.  The war goes on for years, maybe centuries. And the battles tear down the mountains until only steep cliffs remain.  

My voice sings of a town cut off from the world by the cliffs to one side and a deep river on the other.  The townspeople make no effort to find a way out.  They are fine being apart from those they do not like.   

My voice sings of a town that begins to die.  The wells turn sour and the crops die.  People are hungry. 

My voice sings of a young woman who walks to the water’s edge each day to collect fresh water.  One day she sees a man across the river, different in appearance from her, but he is strong.  He is not sick like those of her town.  She is fearful, but she calls out to him. 

My voice sings of two people meeting at the water’s edge each day.  He speaks to her across the water and tells her stories of the lands beyond the river and the town by the sea. 

My voice begins to sing of her love for her town and her people.  Of her desire to make them well and whole again.   She knows that she must find a way across the river.  She begins to sing a song of love and magic and hope and as she sings a bridge begins to form over the river…

My voice sings of her father, who followed her to the river that morning. He hears her song and sees her walking to the misty bridge.  His eyes fall upon the man across the water and he yells in rage.  He runs to the bridge as she steps on it and grabs her shoulders to stop her…she stumbles and her voice falls quiet.  The bridge vanishes as she falls and does not catch her…

My voice sings of her father’s grief as he watches her fall in to the river…swept away by its rushing waters.  He drops to his knees sobbing as the man across the river begins to sing… 

My voice sings of the townspeople weak, sick, hearing the song and coming to the river.  They begin to sing.  As their voices rise the bridge begins to form. They sing for many days and nights, not eating or sleeping until the bridge is finished.  The father and the man meet in the middle of the bridge.

My voice begins to sing her song…the words coming slowly…

My heart was born by the river.
My heart sings of the sea.
My heart crosses the rushing water.
My heart brings hope home….

My voice is slowly, slowly joined by others. They too sing the story of the town.  A story of war, and sickness. A story of isolation.  A story of hope and grief.  

As we all sing, we weep in grief.
As we sing, we keen in mourning.
As we sing, we lift our voices in hope. 

As we sing the days, and nights pass.  I see hundreds of people moving about the hill.  Some on their knees, other walking, standing arms raised to the sky.  All are singing.  I do not know how many gather; how many people are remembering their own story, their forgotten song.

I do not know how many days pass.  I awaken on the hill with my teacher looking down at me and offering me a drink of water from the river.

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