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Burning bridges

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By Ken Begley

All the burning bridges that have fallen after me
All the lonely feelings and the burning memories
Everyone I left behind each time I closed the door
Burning bridges lost forevermore

Lyrics to “Burning Bridges”

When I was young, I was always a loner.
My nature was to be shy and sensitive. I could have my feelings hurt easily, so I tended to avoid close relationships. After all, people can be cruel, and you can’t get hurt if you don’t “put yourself out there.”
So if you burn the bridges and build a tall enough wall around yourself, then you would be “safe.”
But you know what?
You might be “safe,” but it’s very lonely living by yourself in your own little fortress. That was how I chose to live my life from an early age.
The years passed by and I grew up.
I headed to the U.S. Navy at 17. I shook the dirt off this little county from my shoes and was glad to go. I didn’t feel I was leaving anything behind. I didn’t pass on my address to anyone except my family. It didn’t even occur to me to do otherwise.
The Navy reinforced my tendency to be on my guard against people.
You see, this was right after the Vietnam War. The military was “broke” from that conflict. Drugs, alcohol abuse, theft, physical violence and desertion rates were high as a very poorly paid military went “volunteer” for the first time.
The American public, in turn, could be pretty ugly toward us.
I remember people yelling bad things and throwing stuff at us from their cars as they rolled by bus stops in the cities around my home port. It didn’t happen every day, but it happened often enough. General Colin Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and General Tommy Franks write a lot about that in their autobiographies. It was an ugly time for the entire military.
My walls went higher with a deep suspicion of people after my time in the Navy.
I came back home and went to college.
I can’t tell you a single person I went to college with. I can’t even name you the people I shared a dorm room with. Amazing isn’t it? People just weren’t that important to me.
After college, I worked as an agent for the Internal Revenue Service for a few years. If you want to talk about not trusting people, then talk with someone that has done that job. I was actually in my early 20s, and among my cases were some known drug dealers with front businesses. I did one-on-one audits with these crooks while they were under surveillance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. It wasn’t a fun job, and didn’t inspire confidence in your fellow man.
I left the IRS and went on active duty with the Army. I never did understand how such a meek and mild person like myself ever came to be drawn to this part of society. Yet, I guess if your bridges are burned to others, then you can’t get hurt by what happens around you.
We had some really good people, but we also had some wild characters serving that today would never get in. One fellow killed someone in a barroom brawl. Another big guy would get routinely drunk and beat the stuffings out of people for fun. While a few others had arrest records that would fill up most of a sheet of paper.
Still, it was there that I finally began to change.
I realized how lonely I really was. It was there that I prayed to God that someone would come into my life, and God sent me Cindy.
But even after marriage it was hard for me to tear down my walls and start building a bridge. It didn’t happen overnight. The idea of answering to anyone other than myself was a truly foreign concept.
My bridge to Cindy led to my children. My bridges to the kids led me to teachers, their friends, other parents and more people than I can count. The bridges have taught me that I have a really hard time not liking anyone, no matter who they are. Today, these bridges are more important to me than anything else I own. They are my source of happiness.
It’s for that reason that I don’t like to see burned bridges with anybody.
Yet burned bridges in our society seem to be very common.
Our people are willing to cut themselves off from others for many reasons too numerous to list. The byproduct is always hate, anger and fear.
You know what I think?
I’ve been to the land of hate, anger, and fear. I don’t want to go back there willingly. It’s a dark and forbidding ground for all who dwell in it.
So what’s the point of this whole column?
I guess it’s to say we should all be careful not to burn our bridges to others. Sometimes it’s the other person that burns the bridge and we don‘t have a say over what has happened. But you still have one option left. Keep your heart and prayers open to these people because nobody wins in the end otherwise.
Take care my friends.