I-35W Bridge collapse: Two years, a minute and a century later

Massive white puffy clouds–backlit and hanging low– were blowing across the downtown skyline as I rode by bike across the 10th Avenue Bridge this afternoon. The view in the distance was Postcard Minneapolis: rolling river and Falls, Stone Arch Bridge, Guthire. The view up close was just another freeway, just another bridge with cars speeding by.

That was, of course, no ordinary bridge, and this was no ordinary day. But life had returned to very much normal on the 35W Bridge, and everything around it, on this the two year anniversary of the horrible disaster. There were no crowds gathered today. A few people here and there were standing on the riverbanks and bridges staring toward the new bridge…..no way of knowing what they were thinking.

As I crossed over onto University Avenue I passed the spot where the morning after the disaster media trucks and seemingly every reporter from around the world had camped. It’s once again just an intersection and freeway entrance. The park on the north side of the Stone Arch bridge that had been jammed with crowds and media in those days,now was the site of a wedding.

I rode back across the Stone Arch toward home on what could be just another day….and the collapse seemed like it was two years, a minute and a century ago.  It didn’t feel that way earlier today when survivors of the collapse and friends were at the Riverview Theater to see an early draft of the documentary: “One Day In August.” As all those images came back to life the theater got quiet. The lights came up and as people filed outside, it was clear for many, including me, the feelings from that day are a lot more raw than we like to believe.

The families of the victims asked that this be a private day, one where each of us takes a minute to remember what happened, but also allows them to do that in their own way.

There is no way to sugarcoat the horrible events of two years ago. People lost lives and people they loved. People were injured–both in body and mind–in ways that can’t be repaired. There is, however a place to be thankful. I’m thankful for all those familes of the victims who Megan and I got to know. In the middle of horrible grief they shared wonderful memories of the people they lost, which helps each of us keep them alive in some way.

I’m thankful for firefighters, police, public workers employees, divers, medical workers, social workers, and lots and lots of regular people who were brave enough to keep this from being even worse. Thankful for the people who laid out a reponse plan years in advance so we knew what to do. Thankful that not a single grizzley image of a body coming out of the water was ever published (which took restraint from both the rescue teams and the media.). I’m thankful all those hundreds of people who were nearly on the bridge at that deadly moment two years ago are with us today. I thankful for being from Minnesota, where when something horrible happens people don’t run away— they run to help.

And I’m thankful for breezy afternoons that remind us when even the very worst has happened, life can…at least on some level…go on.

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