The day the bridge fell
Five years ago today, the 35W bridge fell.
To most people, “The 35W Bridge” means the one that dropped into the Mississippi River on August 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 more. To me, a lifelong resident of south Minneapolis, there are many, many 35W bridges. I travel on one of them when I take my kids to their pediatrician. I bike underneath a 35W bridge on my way to the library.
The first we heard of the disaster was when my mother-in-law called, hysterical, hoping that we were okay. I remember turning on the television and nearly fainting from surprise, shock, and horror.
Here? HERE? In sweet, simple, provincial Minneapolis? A town that, all protestations to the contrary, secretly liked being a part of flyover country?
Then, of course, our thoughts turned to the last time we’d traveled that particular stretch of highway. I’d been on it just the day before, and on that day, July 31, I too found myself stuck in traffic in the sweltering heat, watching MnDOT workers sweat through another day on the job while my kids whined in the back seat.
Hanah Sahal was only two years old when she perished with her mother, Sadiya, on August 1, 2007. They were driving to visit a relative when the bridge fell.
Three weeks before the bridge collapsed, I had an emotional blowout/breakup with my family of origin, for reasons that are as complex, frustrating, and prone to mistakes as the science of structural engineering. Friends from across the country e-mailed and called to see if we were safe. My California friend Kristi, bless her heart, texted and I had no idea how to reply on my chunky circa-2006 most assuredly not smart cell phone. But neither my mother, my father, nor my sister bothered to contact me to see if I was okay.
In truth, I wasn’t. 2007 was a year of personal disasters, each more enormous than the other. In November, someone as dear to me as Sadiya and Hanah were to someone else also died, though not suddenly. On August 1, 2007, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that she would not live very long. Later that month, the same August that would forever be marked by the bridge collapse, I would visit her home in Boston for the last time. I still miss her terribly.
On August 2, 2007, and in the weeks thereafter, I became unusually protective of my hometown. I wanted to scream at the hordes of national reporters to GO AWAY AND LEAVE US ALONE. I wanted privacy to lick my hometown’s wounds. This was not New York or L.A., places where Bad Things could safely happen to Interesting People! This was MINNEAPOLIS, for cryin’ out loud!
This was my home!
My bridge! My highway! My family! My Liz!
The calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh, a truly great writer, thinker, and teacher. I’ve read many of his books in the five years since 2007 and I’ve learned this:
Every disaster, both personal and public, both televised and otherwise, is another opportunity to disabuse ourselves of the illusion of control.
Remember that, today.