Short Prayers Against Gravity

This piece was published on the opinion page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 11, 2008.  The challenge was to write something related to the August, 2007 35W bridge collapse that took a lighter tone.  I chose to address what I thought were the most practical everyday concerns people had about bridge maintenance.

You can see the column at the Star Tribune website.

While waiting for the Minnesota Department of Transportation to repair and upgrade half a dozen highly used, fracture-critical bridges, motorists have been assured that the structures are safe. This is probably true. But humans tend to assume the worst, and in the process of crossing these time-worn spans it would not be surprising if drivers entertained their darkest, most-troubling thoughts in spite of official assurances.

There is not much an individual can do to buttress a bridge, though many people claim prayer exerts a powerful force over even the most massive physical object.

Here, then, are some precisely calibrated, location-specific meditations to recite (from memory), behind the wheel.

I.  Dresbach Bridge (Interstate 90) over the Mississippi outside of La Crescent.  (2,490 feet long)  At 60 miles per hour, 28 seconds

Minnesota just behind
and up ahead, Wisconsin.
States I’d rather never need
emergency response in.

Stay Oh Dresbach Bridge, stay up.
Hear my invocation
on behalf of travelers
who suffer trepidation.

Help us cross the border quickly.
Hasten our momentum.
All the ills that weaken structures,
hinder, Lord. Prevent ’em.

Interfere with frozen bearings.
Thicken thinning steel.
Strengthen everything beneath
my wildly spinning wheels.

Desperately I raced above
the mighty Mississip.
Fracture-critical, the bridge,
Nerve-wracking, the trip.

II. The Cayuga Bridge (Interstate 35E) in St. Paul, over Cayuga Street. (1,285 feet) At 50 mph, 17 seconds

God as you have done so often,
Keep Cayuga Bridge aloft, and

help it bear my awful weight.
Make the pylons ramrod straight.

Check the deck and stop the rust.
You have the power Lord, I trust.

Bless this rebar. Give it strength.
And reinforce along their length

the weakened girders and the plates
and parts just past their wear-out dates.

In Your hands, these cars, You have ’em
while we span this dreadful chasm.

III. Hastings Bridge  (1,857 feet) At 60 mph, 21 seconds

Uphold this crucial bridge, Oh Lord
and I’ll uphold Your Holy Word.

I’ll help the sick. I’ll feed the poor.
I’ll work to end disease and war.

I’ll drive with care. I’ll fight the urge
to honk when others try to merge.

Almost there now, Lord. I pray
I’ll live to say I crossed today.

If by Your grace this bridge be blessed, Your
servant’s hands will no more gesture

at commuting souls beside me.
If I’m lying, woe betide me!

With tears of gratitude my face stings.
Thanks to You I got to Hastings.

IV. All-purpose bridge bolstering prayer for any location, large or small. If traffic is slow, repeat.

Now I drive me down the road.
May all the bridges hold their load.

And bless those who their flaws repair
So I may travel unaware.

Who fix what’s crumbling and sinking
So I may travel without thinking.


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