Bridges and Trails

Two explorers were pushing through the wilderness when they came to a stream. Not exactly a raging river, but an obstacle still. The weight of their packs made crossing against the current a little more dangerous, and one of them fell in, soaking all of his gear. Safely on the other side, the drenched man took off his pack and started gathering the largest stones he could carry, placing them carefully in the stream to form a foot bridge. “What are you doing?” asked his partner. “You don’t need a bridge, we’re already across.”. “It’s not for us,” the man answered. “it’s for whoever comes next.”

I had a great run yesterday morning, and it was completely unexpected. I was at a hotel in a small “resort” town on Lake Ontario. Last resort is a little more appropriate. The town has seen better days; roads are a little rough, sidewalks crumbling, quite a few closed businesses. I was planning for a run before work, and assumed I’d need to stick to the main roads. At least there were sidewalks there. It was foggy, and I didn’t want to risk running on the shoulder with low visibility.

As I was getting ready, I noticed a path in the small park outside my window. The path was paved, but I couldn’t tell how long it was. What the heck; five or six or ten laps around a protected path was probably better than a dangerous run through traffic.

I headed out into the mist, and found the path. It was wide and flat, and hugged the shoreline of the lake. As the path rounded the bend where I’d lost sight of it from the hotel, I found that it not only continued, but opened into an even bigger park. I couldn’t see that from the hotel. It traced the outline of the lake, passing through some really nice scenery. The fog and mist hanging over the lake completed the picture. Obviously, someone had a vision for what this area could be, and wasn’t tied down by the fact that the rest of the town could use some work, too. Chances are they spent their time, energy, and resources on a project that would benefit someone else (me, I this case) more than it did themselves.

Whether we realize it or not, we benefit everyday from the “bridges” that someone else took the time to build. Parents who raised us, teachers who mentored us, and possibly spouses who sacrifice some of their own desires or aspirations to help us achieve ours. As hard as we might work, there’s really no such thing as a “self-made” man (or woman). We are products of all the influences of the people around us, plus our own efforts. We will likely never meet the people who have done so much to change our lives for the better. As one who spends a lot of time running, cycling, and swimming, I reap the benefits of the guy who spearheaded the trail program, or put together the century ride, or had the vision for the public indoor pool. My life would be completely different if those things didn’t exist.

We aren’t all called to do such grand things, but we can all do something to build a bridge for those who will come behind. A word of encouragement to the new rider in the group could be the difference between a lifetime of cycling and going home dejected. Volunteering at a local race can bring someone back for another 5k because their first experience was positive. The possibilities are endless.

So, my challenge to you (and me) is this; next time you’re congratulating yourself for a hard fought accomplishment, look around. Who’s coming behind? They might need a hand.

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