In German the phrase “being (or living) under the bridge” usually denotes people who have no other place to be. Homeless people whose only shelter is the roof provided by roads and tracks crossing the river. Regular people usually avoid spending time under bridges. These places are often dirty, dark, damp, loud from the traffic above and somewhat sinister. The only people (except the homeless) who actually spent time under bridges are youth groups, maybe skaters, gang members and others who seek to avoid the public eye. Being a under the bridge means being somewhat out of sight. Being able to do things that should not be witnessed. Like dealing drugs, spraying graffitis or hanging out and drinking with others who have little else to do with their day.
But being under the bridge can also be a fascinating place. A place where one can see the depth of human suffering and failure. Despite what well meaning people say about how society, capitalism or high rents are to blame for the situation people living under the bridge find themselves in, it seems undeniable that those poor individuals are mostly there because they failed in living life. We can fail at many things like a job, a project, a relationship, a competition or an IKEA cupboard. But we move on and learn. Some people though they fail at life. They fail at the absolute minimum that is necessary for survival, taking care of themselves.
Surely they have not been taken care of very well as children because that is how one learns to take care of oneself. But even then most people who come from troubled homes learn to not fail at life. It might be hard and difficult, they might suffer more than others or achieve less than they otherwise might have. But they nevertheless take care of themselves and live their life. People who live under the bridge do not. Maybe they were able to cope with life for a while with the help a partner, a job but maybe also with drugs and alcohol. And maybe they lost the former or could no longer control the latter. And then they fail at reattaining some kind of balance.
It is important to visit these places. To see those who are living under the bridge, those who are gathering there for lack of something better to do, to visit this particular depth of human failure. Because we might just fail too. Maybe not as far and deep for most, but still in us lurks the capacity to fail with life, to give in to despair and if you look at the sheer terror that life can be it is no wonder. Going to these places, seeing the people there helps in connecting to this part of our psyche. It is not pleasant but it is vital. Because when something happens that tips you off balance it is better to confront the demons that you have already seen when it was safe than those that you have repressed and ignored because the thought was unpleasant. Because the latter demons take you by surprise and they are vicious.
Do not stay in your nice and pleasant bubble all the time. Venture out and visit the uncomfortable and sad places in the outside world and your inner psyche. Connect with what Carl Gustav Jung called the Shadow.
I will end this essay with a positive note though. This particular place can also be a place of joy. I know that a choir uses the impressive acoustics right where I took the image to practice their songs. I hope to witness this sometime.