She lived on an island which, over time, had been formed between two rivers. This island was named “Safety” because it provided sanctuary for those seeking its shelter. One river was called “Hurt” because its bubbling rock-laden rapids and swirling whirlpools had inflicted long-lasting injury on anyone whose boat had capsized during a past voyage. The second river, a wider one, was known as “Fear” because its deep, uncharted waters evoked anxiety in any would-be traveler thinking of crossing it to reach the unexplored far shore.
She had systematically built a strong buttress, a stone block wall around her island to prevent the river waters from touching her. Unintentionally, but unfortunately, this defense also resulted in keeping herself isolated from the outside world. Daily life on her island passed uneventfully as she kept busy fulfilling her responsibilities and duties.
Yet, despite her security and hours-filling activities, she yearned for something more, something intimate, a deeper closeness to another human being with whom she could finally be real and transparent. This dream could only be realized on the mainland. There was certainly nothing to be gained by seeking to cross the River Hurt. That would only take her back in a wrong direction and reawaken old pain.
She resolved to attempt a crossing of the River Fear. Several times she approached its shores, only to turn back in understandable panic. What if I drown? What if I get injured in my voyage? I have no map to guide me around any hidden shoals. Several times she convinced herself to stay put, to continue to live on Safety Island. In doing so, she would never have to risk disappointment or worse, if the crossing failed.
Half asleep, but on her knees in prayer, in the middle of a cloudless, moon-brightened night, she at last found the answer. Rather than attempt a dangerous crossing alone by boat, she would build a bridge across the Fear River. But what materials could she find to construct this span?
All the while, an answer had literally been all around her; she would take down the protective stone wall, block by block and use those sturdy rocks to build her bridge. She would name it “Trust Bridge” because she would need to rely on its strength to carry her across to the far shore. This new challenge would now have to be given its rightful priority. She resolved to set aside some routine daily tasks and hurried through other distracting demands on her time. The real work could then begin, albeit not without residual anxiety and doubt.
Meanwhile, on the mainland, another human being, admiring her effort and feeling compassion, began to work on the far end of that bridge, resolving to help by meeting her half-way. In time and with much expended energy and emotion, their work was nearly completed.
As she began to set the last stone in place to close the span, she looked down at the River Fear rushing by far below. She hesitated and might have turned around to regain that familiar sanctuary now behind. But the helper reached out a hand which she grasped and held tightly. Together they carefully laid the last rock in place and rested side by side, being present for each other.
Once the Trust Bridge had been completed, she returned to Safety Island, not to stay, but to retrieve her belongings. In one suitcase she carried her negative baggage: her anger, her fears, her guilt and her sadness, emotions which she had kept locked away on the island. Crossing the Trust Bridge, she now opened her suitcase and unpacked these feelings in the presence of her friend. The friend quietly listened, tried to understand and then accepted these difficult emotions without judgment, condemnation nor rejection.
In her other suitcase, a lighter one, she brought her unmet needs for affirmation, recognition, companionship and love. Her friend again listened, then responded with empathy, reassurance and unconditional love. Together they had discovered intimacy.
As their eyes were drawn to Safety Island, they saw the river waters slowly encroaching on the now-defenseless land until, at last, it disappeared beneath the waves. She watched without concern. She no longer needed its protection. The Catholic theologian, Henri Nouwen, would have understood this allegory: He stated:
"If fear is the great enemy of intimacy, love is its greatest friend."
The “She” in this story is any of us who hides behind protective walls of a self-constructed sanctuary to avoid the pain of past and future hurt. In doing so we also deny ourselves the hope of future love and intimacy.
“Other person” is the helper: maybe a spouse, a friend, a therapist or for some religious others, the Christ figure. To risk intimacy -- to risk being real in relationship, to become transparent -- we must first build that bridge we call trust. We always need someone at the other end, someone who will invite us into intimacy. To walk across that bridge can be scary but almost always well worth the risk.
We are about to move into a new Fall season. May we also, as opportunities arise, be able and willing to enter a new season in our life journey -- a period of time in the calendar year that offers hope and potential for the intimacy we all crave, if only we have trust in building a bridge that will enable us to reach out and grasp a receptive hand...A hand that may well have been there all along.