[06 March, 2011]


In January, a friend came to visit me from Ireland and of course one of the items on her tourist list was to walk on the Golden Gate Bridge. And yes, even after all this time, I was still nervous to actually walk on what I viewed as a killing machine, and not a beautiful landmark. Since my friend's suicide, I'd only driven on it twice, very quickly, while focusing on the road. I pictured that being on the bridge on foot would be really intimate, like there we were, in direct contact with each other. On the other hand, I feared that it would feel inescapable, in case anything came up for me, or I ran into a suicidal person.

I talked about this with my therapist and she suggested that I light a candle or bring flowers or say kind words for my friend while on the bridge. This would reframe the monument into a memorial, kind of in the way that tombstones are eery but useful for remembering. So on the way there, we stopped to buy a candle, and while we were right over the churning dark waves, I lit it, had a moment of silence, and left the burning candle (in its fire-proof protective casing) by one of the towers. Others passed it, looked and probably understood. Maybe it even deterred a few people that day or at least provided solace to possible friends and family of the deceased. Interestingly enough, this simple deed really worked to transform my view of the bridge, and it is now no longer a scary means for death, but a quiet, elegant memorial to the sad circumstances under which people choose to end their pain. When I catch a glimpse of it now from any corner of the Bay, I send a few thoughts to the fallen souls. Maybe they really did find a sense of other-worldly peace...

Photo belongs to Jennbawa
Still, while we were on the bridge lighting the candle, a strange man kept pacing from the tower to the railing and back to the tower. It was a gloomy windy day, so he'd look down at the waves and return to the safety of the tower nook. His behavior seemed sketchy enough that my heart started to pound hard and fast. The statistics were against him: he was alone, he was a man, he looked disheveled like he might have been drinking. I really wasn't in the right state of mind to deal with it, but my crisis training would not let my conscience go. I had to find out what was going on. In an awkward way, I asked how he was feeling, and he said he was fine. Oh, he was just waiting for his friend and friend's son who wanted to walk just a little bit further. He was knowledgable about boats and so was watching the freight ships perusing the Bay underneath. Later, as we drove on the bridge on our way home, I saw him walking with another man and a boy. So he wasn't lying; he was alive and well, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He probably tells the story now of how some random girl bothered him out of nowhere to see if he was ok. But asking proactively is the way to take care of each other, and concern and curiosity may very well be the first step in saving someone's life.

2 sighs or salutations:

piccadillous | 07 March, 2011

I'm proud of you for doing that! I think I would have felt too shy and nervous to go up to him. Of course, that's probably what your training is for... : )

It does make me think of the discussion here though (although it's quite a different set of circumstances!):

daria | 07 March, 2011

Heh, yeah, I might not have done it without the training. I was definitely in my crisis hotline mode at that moment, and probably couldn't have functioned any other way. It turned out ok, in this case. I think he understood why I was asking/intruding, especially because he had been watching my little candle vigil. But thanks for being proud of me. :) I didn't feel so proud in that moment. :/ But yeah, at least everything turned out ok.

Yeah, I had read that post when you sent it to me earlier, but hadn't read the comments. I see the connection, although in her case, she deemed it inappropriate to talk to the woman. I guess when death seems imminent, we are a little less cautious about respecting the boundaries and choices of others. Also, I guess this could relate to my training as well, but I think I'm at least a little less likely to suffer from the bystander effect. At least, my whole job revolves around being intrusive into people's lives and I already witness so many different things that they don't scare me. I guess kind of like an EMT or doctor would probably be more likely to go up to a heavily breathing person in public...

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