David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Lock and Key

Imagine a world without secrets — or at least a world where people can rid themselves of secrets and fears, leaving their minds open to boundless imagery of beauty, and even salvation.

Can such a thing as this exist? Is it only in the realm of the existential, or in a Disney make-believe?

Pont des Arts‎ is a bridge in Paris where such a world exists, at least symbolically.

Hundreds of thousands of people, local citizens and tourists the world over, walk to the center of the bridge to affix a padlock onto it. The key to this lock represents a secret, and when the key is thrown into the River Seine, this secret known only to the key-holder, is consumed by the water and disappears into the bottom of the river.

Sounds far-fetched?

Tell that to the 700,000 people who have locked 45 tons of locks onto the bridge forcing the local municipality to begin a costly project to repair the bridge, not to mention the 700,000 keys at bottom of the River Seine.

People of all races, cultures and religions flock to Paris and to this bridge. Everyone from the devout in their religious beliefs to the atheist or agnostic.

This Pont des Arts has been romanticized as the lovers’ bridge. Here, the lock and key held by many a man or woman represents a wistful longing, a desire for a new love or the return of a lost love, certainly all among the basic desires of most people.

But, also imagine for a moment the therapeutic benefit of ridding oneself ‎of a searing, ubiquitous hatred that is more crushing to the soul – than is love to the heart.

Here, on this bridge at this moment, they do not seek repentance for a sin committed, for any ill-will harbored towards their fellow man,  for a theft committed from a relative or friend,  for an indiscretion in faded memory, for a secret carried as the victim of sexual or domestic abuse, or if even they themselves were the abuser.

Every person literally locks their secret to a portion of the bridge and then throws, rids, themselves of the secret into the bottom of the river.

Can it be that simple?

In the early 1900’s when prominent people sought out advice from Dr. Sigmund Freud and he diagnosed them with melancholy, his recommended course of treatment was solitary walks in the woods. He suggested that thoughtful introspection could relieve the rigors of daily pressure and anxiety. Melancholy is a precursor to mild depression.

No one will ever suggest that severe cases of loneliness, depression, isolation, fear, addiction or the like can be remedied with the toss of a key into a river.

Yet, there are within various cultures and religious practices symbolism for  ‘a new beginning’.

A well-known example in Judaism is Tashlich. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, we throw bread into the ocean or stream to be consumed by fish to symbolically throw our sins away and pray to G-d to begin anew.

For the countless many who go through life yearning to put the past behind them, to rid themselves of that bad memory, the lock on the bridge and key at the bottom of the river may bring relief however temporary. For some possibly permanently. It may not bring true closure, but it may yield a certain inner tranquility.

And if you can’t make the trip to Paris to the Pont des Arts a lock on a nearby bridge and a tossed key may bring a smile to your face that your mirror hasn’t seen in quite some time.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.