The old man stood by the end of the great bridge that spanned an arc of Time and looked back on the way he had come. This was his bridge: it bore his signature — 1952; and thus would it be recorded for future ages. Yet the old man thought of it rather as belonging to the millions and millions of human beings who had traveled over it with him — men, women and children whose lives were closely linked in shaping its destiny. He wondered how many of them were even aware of the mighty structure or of their responsibility for what transpired upon it. And what was Time? To these mortals the bridge was a segment of it which they reckoned in days — 366 of them, of 24 hours each — but to the old man the bridge was his life, for his initial step, taken as a lusty infant, coincided with the laying of its first stone. Now, worn with the rigors of its erection, he but waited the coming of his successor to take his place with those who had gone before. Time! The arc spanned by the bridge was a drop in the ocean of Infinity, yet within its compass the life and death struggles of countless beings had taken place, and for the builder himself it was the alpha and omega of his activity.
Standing there wrapped in thought, a portion of his consciousness watched for the one who should take over the work ahead, while another part of him studied the bridge and noted every point in its construction. Hope had been high when he began his labors, and some of that hope had been fulfilled. The materials used had been the best he could procure, and the lines of the finished bridge were beautiful in their symmetry and simplicity; but the uses to which it had been put by some who crossed it filled his heart with sadness. He had so yearned that they might feel the love that had gone into its building and find their own lives blessed in consequence; but there had been occasions when, knowing the burden it was meant to bear, he had wondered if the bridge could take the strain of sorrow and evil heaped upon it. At such moments he waited with bated breath to learn the outcome.
From the bridge-entrance to the first tower he could discern festoons of colored lights, symbols of the many resolutions made as offerings at the christening of the bridge; but beyond that point only fitful gleams remained, or will-o'-the-wisp flashes to show the resurrection of some good intention; but there were great gaps where there had been a lack of will to carry out the purpose. Here and there deep shadows fell where strife and turmoil and the selfish lusts of men had marred the journey and sometimes halted those who sought to cross. Elsewhere an understanding of the builder's purpose revealed itself in gently glowing lights. To such as these the crossing of the bridge had been an enriching experience, ennobled by a selfless love of country, trust in one's neighbor, contentment in serving others before oneself. Seeing it all in retrospect, the old man sighed: he wished there had been more of the gently shining lights; and yet even in his disappointment his heart was warmed by the steady glow that came from those who did the best they could, unmindful of anything but that it should be their best. Few, perhaps, other than himself, knew what their efforts signified, and for that very reason he paid them tribute.
The quiet of the night began to tremble with the pealing of a myriad bells — sweet bells, clanging bells, deep booming richness and high treble tones. Through it all a youthful voice carried:
The old man turned and beheld the diapered dignity of the New Year. He smiled a little sadly, remembering his own past and the exuberance with which he had begun his labors — even when he too was only an infant. He held out his hand in greeting and the youngster asked:
"What happened? Did they have to take someone as old as you for this job?"
"I was your age when I began," the old man replied.
"No!" There was incredulity in the tone, and the New Year stamped a very small foot. "I'll not be treated that way," he asserted.
"I hope not." His companion sighed. "But it's not just you, you know. You've got all these millions and millions of human beings to take along with you. The new bridge is theirs as much as yours, and they have to learn a lot more about its purpose than you do — and without knowing as much of the plan. It's a grand work, and it has its compensations even though one grows old and weary in it. — Ah, the bells are silent! I must be leaving. Here's wishing you the best for 1953!"
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