A few weeks ago, my wife, Mary Ellen, and I had dinner at Chen’s Chinese Bistro. After our usual chicken and broccoli with garlic sauce, we got around to opening our fortune cookies. Mine read, “You’ll never extend your borders if you don’t exceed your limits.” It’s amazing what you can learn from a cookie.
I’m writing this at 2:20 a.m. Normally, I sleep very well, but tonight, finding myself wide awake, I began thinking about my column, “In my own words,” and five words came to mind: “Dig deep to build high.” I noticed Mary Ellen wasn’t sleeping, either, so I shared my insight with her: “Dig deep to build high,” I said. Awake, but not ready for such profundity at that hour of the morning, she asked, “What does that mean?” Lacking an articulate verbal response, I told her I was getting up to write about it.
“Dig deep to build high.” As I turned on the computer, I wondered if I had heard those words somewhere before, or was I the first to offer such inscrutable wisdom to humanity? To find out, I did a Google search, and there, near the top of the list was: “Mongolian proverb:
If you want to build high, you must dig deep.” Wise people, those Mongolians!
In retrospect, my inspiration for writing about digging deep to build high was a video, produced by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, that documents the engineering and construction of St. Croix Crossing,
a new bridge that will span the federally protected St. Croix River
to link Minnesota with Wisconsin. When the new structure is complete, the lift bridge
it replaces, which currently handles about 18,000 vehicles a day, will be limited to bicycles and pedestrians. As a past resident of Stillwater, which anchors the Minnesota end of the old bridge, I’m well acquainted with scenes shown in the video.
Bridges fascinate me. Years ago, I designed and wrote a promotional brochure for a computer company titled “Bridges to tomorrow.” The text begins as follows: “Bridges: Strong, functional, eye-pleasing technology. Massive monuments to human effort in overcoming natural limitations. Monuments with unseen foundations standing firm on unmoving bedrock. Giant leaps of stone, concrete, and steel reaching forward in suspended animation.
“Bridge building is reaching, building on established foundations, but reaching, always reaching. Spanning barriers, bringing the hard-to-reach within our grasp. When completed, the passage is simpler, shorter, smoother—and many follow. Not many build bridges, but many cross them. Not many dream the dream, but many benefit when the dream becomes reality. Later, the dream of the few becomes the ordinary for the many.”
Bridge building isn’t easy. To provide a strong foundation for St. Croix Crossing and to make sure this vital piece of infrastructure will last at least 100 years—well past tomorrow—the builders lowered caissons down to bedrock. These massive tubes, later filled with concrete, passed through 25 feet of water, 87 feet of muck, and two feet of sand and gravel, before being embedded 25 feet into bedrock, approximately 140 feet below the surface of the water. That’s digging deep to build high.
I knew one of the civil engineers—now deceased—who helped design the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge
that connects the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Othmar Ammann, the bridge’s chief engineer, designed most of the other bridges in and around New York City, including the George Washington,
and the Throgs Neck.
From my years living in New York, I can testify to the beauty and distinctiveness of all of them, but the Verrazano,
apart from the fact that its name is incorrectly spelled—it’s named for Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European to enter New York Harbor—is, in my opinion, particularly elegant. Because of the height of its towers and their distance apart from each other, the earth’s circumference had to be taken into account when designing the bridge. In other words, the towers do not stand parallel to each other; they’re farther apart at their tops than at their bases. Amazing!
Nurses: Health care’s bridge builders
And what does “Dig deep to build high” have to do with nurses and nursing? Well, a lot. Nurses are health care’s bridge builders. They build bridges between disciplines. They build bridges to better policies. They even build bridges to the future. In her call to action, President Hester C. Klopper, PhD, MBA, RN, RM, FANSA, shared her dream for a Global Advisory Panel on the Future of Nursing (GAPFON). Its purpose? To establish a global voice and vision for nursing.
Recently, in announcing GAPFON’s founding sponsors
—Pfizer, Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, and the National Council of State Boards of Nursing—STTI quoted Patricia Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN, dean of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, as follows: “Today’s nurses are full partners and leaders in the health care process. They are the bridge between patients and the health care system, and this advisory panel is an extraordinary and timely collaboration to strategically advance nursing education, research, and policy in order to have greater impact on the quality of health care globally.”
Building a bridge to a future in which world health is greatly improved and the profession of nursing significantly advanced requires foundations that are deep and strong.
And if you don’t have a vision for the future, and you fail to dig deep to build high, what do you get? As we learned from the fortune cookie, “You’ll never extend your borders if you don’t exceed your limits.”
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James E. Mattson is editor of Reflections on Nursing Leadership.