Authorities have identified five people who died when the I-35W bridge collapsed in Minneapolis two days ago; eight people are missing. Although we know the number of deaths will increase as the recovery process continues, the numbers strike me as mercifully low. That’s no consolation to family members of the victims, but I cannot help but think the numbers could have been far higher given the substantial volume of traffic on that bridge, particularly at around 6 p.m. when the disaster occurred.
I don’t know that I have ever thought twice about driving my car across a bridge. But I guess it is a big deal. It takes a lot of work to build a road -- a bridge is exponentially more involved. I have always taken roads and bridges for granted. I shouldn’t.
Two days after the disaster, I am discerning a reminder about the nature of work, particularly the kind of work that might be considered routine. The integrity of a bridge is dependent upon frequent and thorough inspections and timely maintenance, not to mention sound design and construction in the first place. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people are involved. Each of them have small jobs, but if any one of them misses something, takes a short-cut, okays something that is marginal or delays repair that could be done today, it can make a difference. We saw that over the Mississippi on Tuesday.
Some jobs are so mundane that they seem unimportant. Some jobs seem disconnected from anything significant. Routine, in particular, can lull us into believing that work is really just a way to pass the time. But work is important. Most small jobs are part of something bigger. Every small part is important to the integrity of the whole, whether that is a bridge, a building, a school, a company, or something else.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
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