“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” - that is all

As many of you know, Exit133 is getting ready for another significant redesign and relaunch as we approach our 5th anniversary. With it will come a whole new look plus several new writers and voices. Daniel Rahe, aka Captiveyak, is one of those voices and he’s already writing. So, rather than wait, he wants to get started now. Inspired by Peter Callaghan’s most recent column, Daniel submits this piece for your consideration. We’re excited to see where these stories go. Please welcome Daniel to Exit133. – Derek

I’ve always been a history buff, and I’ve always hated the term “history buff.” To love history is to love every aspect of humanity’s journey and the tactile evidence of life. Shouldn’t every person love history? Yet the practice of historic preservation is almost always wrought with complication and conflict. Granted, resources are limited; But even if resources were unlimited, differing views of what ought and oughtn’t be priorities would persist. People can’t seem to agree on anything — even on where we’ve come from.

Perhaps especially where we’ve come from.

An idealist might look at the forward rush of mankind and wonder why anyone or anything must become a casualty of progress. Thankfully, people who wonder such things are burned at the stake. Mad progress and momentum are the baselines of culture, as if there is some alternative to trajectory, or some nobility in moving with the inexorable current of time. In this purposeful rush, the mementoes we leave are often as uncontemplated and unremarkable as the lives most of us live. They only acquire meaning because, at some point, they are not new – not because they are useful. Our lifetime of struggle and joy becomes encapsulated in some discarded object.

The Murray Morgan bridge will re-open to pedestrian and bicycle traffic on Wednesday, after a couple years of valiant civic effort by the folks at Save Our Bridge, and many, many others. I would be there to cheer as the ribbon is cut, but I have to be at the office, struggling for advancement.

Some might see the Murray Morgan Bridge preservation effort as a bit absurd. It could be argued that if the State had the time or resources to remove it, the bridge would have likely not lasted much longer than its usefulness. It’s continued existence just might be a budgetary fluke. But now, the bridge has stood for years while bigger and better things blossomed upstream. It watches our tail-lights driving away, and it watches our headlights return. The Murray Morgan Bridge watches us, and those of us who understand feel better because it does. We don’t care if the bridge serves us. We want to honor it’s careworn gaze.

When I moved to Tacoma in 2007, I had never once set foot here. As I negotiated the Budget rental truck through the confounding web of parkways and exits leading to the North End, my eye was immediately captivated by the Bridge — because it’s pretty easy to notice and I don’t like to pay attention to traffic when I’m driving (yes, I only have one eye). Its stoic persevering profile inspired my memory, which imperiled the immediate safety of the vehicles around me.

My memory turned to a SCUBA diving adventure I had undertaken in Lake Superior several years before. My friends and I explored the wreck of the Smith Moore, a steamer barge that sank in 90 feet of water off the coast of Michigan in 1889. Through the numbingly cold September water, I descended the rope from the buoy to the deck and watched the hulking structure emerge from the dark. Even after more than a century of submersion, the Smith Moore had the look of a discarded tool — not the eery aspect of a ghost. She was precise and mechanical, even in repose, representing well the months and months of dedicated craftsmanship and skilled construction that had once made her seaworthy. So much design and sweat, now slowly slipping beneath the sand. I thought of the cliched words of John Keats in Ode on a Grecian Urn:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
           Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

The meaning of that silly couplet suddenly revealed itself to me: Sh*t happens. Much of what we toil at or consider significant could get rammed by another barge in a storm and end up sinking less than 300 feet from safe harbor. These accidents and failures and shipwrecks linger on, reminding us of our inability to properly care for our own creations, and they are beautiful. They make us feel small in a certain painful way even the starry sky cannot — we’ve never neglected or failed Orion. He’s just a big SOB, and reminds us of our insignificance. Now, the Murray Morgan Bridge — we put a lot of effort into building it. We used it and cared for it for decades, only to build another bridge a stone’s throw away while the Murray Morgan faded into disrepair. What a raw deal for a bridge! What a reminder of our short-sighted mania!

By watching us and reminding us of how we fail, the Murray Morgan Bridge serves a vital purpose and merits preservation. It’s longsuffering sillhouette should encourage us to see the beauty of our history. And it should remind us to quit looking at the stars, because they’re stupid.

Also, I did not cause an accident in my rented truck.

The End.

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