Wednesday, September 7, 2016


This evening, for the first time in more than a year, I'm hoping to play duplicate bridge. It will end my longest break from it since I first ventured into that arcane world in 1999. While I wasn't seeking a hiatus, one came to me anyway by virtue of the confluence of: a) my moving away from northeast Missouri (and the familiarity and comfort of my local club); b) my lack of a partner; and c) my ill health.

Now though, I'm doing much better in managing my cancer and I have the bandwidth to gradually reestablish social patterns in my new home (it is not enough to be catching up with Susan on Louise Penny novels and watching West Wing reruns). With Susan's blessing I'm venturing a return to what had become my favorite recreational pastime since I turned 50: duplicate bridge.

One of the niceties about the bridge world is that if you show up early to almost any club game, the directors will work hard to find you a partner. Thus, you need not arrive with a partner in tow (though that's preferable). In Duluth there is a game every Monday at noon and every Wed evening, which will afford me plenty of opportunities to play.

• • •
As I thought about what to write about today, it occurred to me that the term "bridge" evokes a plethora of positive meanings for me, which it might be fun to illuminate:

1. Lift Bridge
 Image result for duluth lift bridge
This is perhaps Duluth's most distinguishing structural feature: the aerial bridge that connects downtown with Park Point, a long spit of sand that extends south, protecting St Louis Bay (which is the mouth of the river of the same name) and the estuary where all of the city's port facilities are located. In the image above you can view an ore boat making the transit between harbor and lake. Taconite (low grade iron ore mined in the Arrowhead country that Duluth is the gateway to) is loaded here on ships such as these, outbound for the steel mills of Indiana and Ohio.

The lift bridge was originally built in 1905 and then rebuilt in 1929 to be what it is today. To accommodate ships of all kinds the canal is 390 feet wide and the deck of the bridge can be lifted 135 feet (in about a minute via hydraulics and counterweights). It's raised and lowered about 5000 times annually, which works out to about 14 cycles daily.
2. Bridging Positions

A lot of what I'm called on to accomplish as a professional facilitator is creating a pathway between people where none exists, so that I can effect a restoration of flow of undistorted information and (hopefully) understanding. It's like being a plumber unclogging pipes. While not always noxious, dynamics among afflicted parties can definitely get anaerobic and tense at times. Thus, like plumbing, it's not so much that the principles are hard to grasp as that you are often asked to perform (with grace and even-handedness) under difficult and volatile conditions. 

To be good at this kind of bridging you need to be able to hear and see people where they are (rather than where you or others think they ought to be), which skill requires that the practitioner be facile at shifting perspectives and empathizing with the person feeling isolated (and possibly misunderstood). It's one of my most valuable skills.

3. Caring Bridge
This refers to the blog site used by my partner Susan and others to report on my progress as I steadfastly work to treat and contain my multiple myeloma (first discovered in January). While I mostly post about my health on this blog; others who have visited me or served in the capacity of being part of my care team have been encouraged to write their impressions and share information about my progress on the Caring Bridge site.

This site has now been visited more than 5000 times (since it was launched in late February), doing yeoman's work in keeping people informed—for which I'm thankful. It's great getting a variety of voices and viewpoints in play, especially ones for which I have no responsibility for directing or editing.

4. Duplicate Bridge
As noted at the outset of this essay, I am itching to start playing bridge again after a break of 15 months (reading Frank Stewart's weekday column in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is not nearly enough). 

Tonight I'm hoping to put my toes back in those waters, bridging from my old life to the one I have today as a cancer survivor living in a new town.

In closing let me share a good laugh I had a couple months back when Sharon (Susan's sister-in-law), who is a very accomplished duplicate player, explained that there has been a brisk sale of bill caps emblazoned with the common bridge bid "No Trump" among American Contract Bridge League players—especially since the Republican National Convention. Maybe I can find one available at a tournament in nearby Carlton MN this weekend.

Hah! I figure if we can't retain our sense of humor, what hope have we?

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