Nearly two years ago Melissa and I took our first trip together – without the children! We “farmed out” the kids to each set of grandparents and took off for a mini-vacation to New York City. I hadn’t visited “the Big Apple” since my days in college nearly thirty years ago, while Melissa had never been to New York. We had a spectacular time!
There are so many memories of that wonderful time away. One in particular I recalled this past week. Melissa and I decided one morning to walk across the BrooklynBridge. Obviously it is a terrific tourist destination and on this 75 degree summer day the bridge was crowded with sightseers. I read that more than 4000 pedestrians and 3100 cyclists cross the bridge each day and I understand why. The BrooklynBridge is an American icon – it stands for immigrant populations that made New York their home; it lifts up human sacrifice and ingenuity; it inspires people from all cultures and continents with its height and beauty.
We walked the bridge and stopped often for pictures, to look over the harbor and to breathe in the beauty of the 130 year old bridge. The bridge was designed by John Roebling, a German immigrant and engineer. While inspecting footings for the bridge, his foot was pinched between great stones and ultimately infection led to an amputation. When the limb became infected again, John Roebling died. He left the project in the hands of his son Washington Roebling. Washington too, fell victim to a debilitating illness that left him bed ridden. It was at this point that Washington Roebling’s wife, Emily, stepped in as the first woman field engineer and saw out the completion of the BrooklynBridge.
As the only person to visit her husband during his sickness, Emily was to relay information from Washington to his assistants and report the progress of work on the bridge. She developed an extensive knowledge of strength of materials, stress analysis, cable construction, through Washington’s teachings. For the next fourteen years, Emily’s dedication to the completion of the BrooklynBridge was unyielding. She took over much of the chief engineer’s duties, including day-to-day supervision and project management. She dealt with politicians, competing engineers, and all those associated with the work on the bridge to the point where people believed she was behind the bridge’s design!
At the official opening in 1883, carrying a rooster as a sign of victory, Emily Roebling was the first to cross the bridge by carriage. At the opening ceremony, Emily was honored in a speech by the mayor of New York who said that the bridge was an everlasting monument to the sacrificing devotion of one woman. Today the BrooklynBridge holds a plaque dedicated to the memory of Emily, her husband, and her father-in-law.
I remember standing before that plaque with Melissa not so very long ago and telling her what a wonderful homily that story would make. Don’t we all need someone behind us to complete our greatest works? In my life I think of presiding on Sunday mornings and how Melissa is my co-creator in preaching. I think of the musicians and readers, greeters and hosts, the altar guild and staff people who make the liturgies “happen.” I am reminded of how often I turn to my colleagues in ministry for direction and inspiration. I think of all my friends and family members who support me and love me and encourage me. The truth is, everything I do and everything I am is a result of the sacrificing devotion of others. And this is true for each of us.
Who are the people who stand beside and behind you? Who are the people who lift you up and allow you to do great things? Who are the ones who sacrifice for you? Perhaps this season of summer will provide a moment of leisure for you to reflect on your life and to be grateful for those who are your co-creators. Even more, perhaps each of us will find an opportunity to tell of our gratitude. Nothing we do is ever done alone. Be aware of who has helped you in life, be grateful for these people of sacrifice, and most of all, speak your words of love and gratitude.