Friday, October 5, 2012

Guest post: Burning Bridges in Madison County

My sister-in-law Freda Zehr sent me the following opinion piece she had published after the movie "The Bridges of Madison County" premiered and was getting rave reviews.

I’ve never seen the film (and don’t plan to) but it is the story of a stable married couple in which the father takes their children to show their animals at a fair in another state, and the wife stays behind to take care of the farm.

While she is home alone one day, a man who is doing a documentary on covered bridges in their area stops by to ask directions. In the ensuing conversation she invites him to stay at her place instead of getting a motel, which results in a torrid week-long affair. It is yet another example of our society’s addiction to the romantic love myth, which could be the subject of another conversation.

Here’s Freda's piece, written in 1995 when she lived in Wilmington, Delaware:

I went to see “Bridges of Madison County” last night. I was prepared with my four handkerchiefs, (it was touted as a four handkerchief movie), but I did not cry.

I, who can weep at the slightest provocation, who could be hired as a professional mourner for my propensity for tears, could not squeeze out a single tear for these lovers.

I have been waiting for a reviewer,  a movie critic or even an armchair psychologist to speak to the audacity of two total strangers who meet and in an instant form a lasting bond of love. So much so, that many years later her children came across the instructions in her will to throw her ashes over the same bridge where her week-long lover's had been thrown.


As I listened to the sniffling around me in the theater, I felt like the little girl in the tale of the emperor’s new clothes.

A part of me wanted to believe, wanted to be pulled into this tale of hopeless love. A part of me wanted to experience the pain, the emotion, to be feeling what everyone else was feeling.

But as Robert and Francesca carried on their illicit affair, all I could see was her faithful and trusting husband away at the fair with the two children they had created together, probably in this same bed where she now romped with her lover.

A part of me may have even wanted to feel that what they were doing was somehow excusable and destined to be, but  my years of experience in life and love kept me from believing.


Love is not an amorous look into the eyes of a stranger over a candlelit table.

Love is not the brush of an unfamiliar hand against a knee, a one night tryst or a three day odyssey of lustful frenzy. Love is not in the selfish tears of lustful longing for that which cannot be.

I am not a prude, nor am I unaware of the attraction one may momentarily feel for someone other other than one’s spouse, but the ability to see that for the mirage it is and to cling to what we call fidelity.

Love has a past a present and a future. In my own experience, love was not just just a dream in the breathless vows spoken in that candlelit church by my 21-year-old self and my 22-year-old husband.

Real love is living out those vows, keeping the promise to have and to hold till death do us part.

Love is the blood and sweat and tears of building a life together, the simple joy of watching a meager savings account grow.

Love is the momentous, emotion-packed moment of holding a newborn child in your arms, and it is the tears in the eyes of my husband as he holds that child in his arms.

And love is the shared nights of worry over a sick child or walking the floor with a colicky baby or watching the clock together, waiting for  the sound of a car in the driveway announcing the safe return of a newly licensed teenager who had broken curfew.

Love is coming home to someone who loves and understands you when it feel as though no one else in the world does. Love is even in the  familiar disagreements and being free  enough to speak your mind and yet know that underneath it all is love, safe and abiding.                                             

Love is bonding with your spouses family and learning to love them as your own.

Love is in the mundane tasks of cleaning out the garage as well in the shared nights of making love with someone you know will be there for the morrow and all the tomorrows of your life, ---or for as long as you both shall live--to be there  for the pride of your children's accomplishments, the graduations, the weddings.

Love is standing together gazing at  a sleeping grandchild and wondering at the continuity of life as you see in him another little boy from years ago.  Love has a past, a present and a future.

As I left the theater last night, I wondered how many people will secretly yearn for that  rainbow in the sky and miss the beauty and wonder of the one they are already holding in their hands.

In reality, from my viewpoint, the closest the movie came to truth was in the words spoken by Francesca as they were pondering whether she should run away with him. “If I go”, she says, “our love will turn into something ugly”.

In my mind it was ugly from the start.

By Freda Zehr

Freda’s beloved husband Vernon Zehr died a year ago this month. Here’s a link to a post on this wonderful man we all loved.
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