Arched bridges have been around for a long time. According to Wikipedia, the oldest of these might be the Mycenaean Arkadiko bridge in Greece, which dates back to about 1300 B.C. It’s a motley looking thing, built across a culvert with stones that look as though they might prefer not being so close to one another. It looks a bit like something I would probably come up with if tasked with erecting a stone bridge.
It was the Romans who really got the hang of building arch bridges. The Spaniards’ bridges, such as the Alcantara (erected circa 105 A.D.) weren’t too shabby either, using multiple arches to create long spans to build their majestic, multi-level aqueducts.
One thing you will find, though, with every arched bridge, including those built in modern times, is a keystone, or something that fills the job of a keystone. The keystone is that last piece that is set at the very peak of the arch and is the stone that allows the transfer of weight into a horizontal thrust, restrained by abutments on either side. Importantly, without a keystone, the whole shooting match will collapse.
Bridges have always been a metaphor for getting from one place to another. In our personal lives, these are often milestones, such as a wedding or school graduation. These transitions may also include getting from a difficult place to a less difficult place, such as a divorce in a marriage gone awry or finding a job after getting laid off. Recovering from the loss of a loved one, or a home lost in a storm, also requires some kind of bridge—once again, something to allow passage from one place in the timelines of our lives to another. And no bridge is possible without the help of others, be they parents footing a tuition bill or the colleagues with whom one networks in order to find a new job.
There are some who prefer—or may simply have no choice—to make these transitions seemingly on their own. But, the fact is, no one can do so without a keystone. Even the strongest of the strong must rely at least upon their own will power and determination to support their bridges.
For most of us, though, these keystones usually come in the form of family and friends. The people in our lives to whom we can always turn. Thus, the distinction between an “acquaintance” and a “friend,” I might add.
Keystones may be found in the form of parents paving the way for their children to reach adulthood, or a mentor, or simply a kind neighbor. As we watch the citizens of New Orleans and Joplin recover from their horrific losses, and now those in the West reeling from raging forest fires, we see citizens from all over America stepping up to help. Some send money; some send materials; others show up in person with vanloads of bottled water. These folks are all part of the keystone for someone else’s bridge. And there is only one thing more gratifying than finding someone who is willing to be your keystone when you really need one, and that is to be a keystone for someone else.