Thursday, September 11, 2008

Surviving a Jump

I often wonder which people will end up having a lasting impact on my life. I'm in a new environment, and I find myself looking around and trying to guess which of these new people will be the ones I tuck into my heart and carry with me for the rest of my life. But one thing is very clear to me. Somebody is comin' with me.

I find myself already sorting and gathering and I think I have a couple of likely candidates, but it's really too soon to tell.

In case you may be getting the wrong idea, I don't think the sorting is as much like "duck, duck, goose" as it may sound. It's really not about which people I like. It's more about which people will get dragged along with me because their impression on me is so profound that I can't let them go when I move on. And it's inevitable that I will move on. I'm not really the staying around type, so I have to put a couple people from every place I briefly visit on the train with me.

I guess it's easy to underestimate the kind of impact we have on each other. It's sometimes more comfortable to think of our actions toward someone as having a beginning and a finite end rather than a ripple effect that may go on forever.

I recently watched an interesting documentary called The Bridge that explored the phenomenon of suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge. It's the scene of at least 20 suicides every year with 37 last year. It's by far the most lethal suicide setting in the world. The director and his crew filmed the bridge from several angles, every daylight minute for a year, and captured 23 of the 24 suicides in 2004. He interviewed the friends and families of several of the jumpers and showed some of the actual footage of those dramatic leaps.

But one of the most interesting interviews was with a young guy who actually survived hurling himself from the bridge a few years before. He had walked back and forth on the bridge before his jump, crying and hoping that someone would notice his pain and stop him. He didn't ask for help, but he believed that if someone noticed him and recognized his pain he wouldn't do it. When a woman asked him if he would take her picture on the bridge and said nothing to him about the tears streaming down his face, he decided to go ahead with his plan. He's one of just a handful of survivors out of the hundreds who have jumped.

I don't think many of us are impervious to the superhero fantasy that we could somehow be the one to rescue someone. I know I'm not. The chances of being in the right place at the right time for something that dramatic are extremely slim. But we are in the right place to make someone's life better (or worse I suppose) every day. We do have the chance to have an impact on someone who is struggling. We can make a difference to someone just by trying to make people better for having known us. And maybe those collective actions will have that dramatic effect or maybe our world will just be a little nicer and easier to bear.


Eric said...

My wife's uncle (her dad's brother) killed himself by jumping off that bridge. His fiance had been killed, and so he decided to join her. That event, coupled with the death of his mother threw my father-in-law into a tailspin of alcoholism and abuse that took many years to overcome and left many people damaged in the wake of it all. Amazing how a stranger (to me) jumping off a bridge so many years ago has such an impact on me personally. A butterfly flaps it's wings in the Amazon...

Olivia said...

Wow Eric. That is very intense. I love your illustration of the butterfly flaping its wings in the Amazon. I relate so much to that as well. My grandmother (who I never met) died in her sleep leaving my 14-year-old mother to fend for herself and an 8-year-old brother and a 3-year-old sister against a narcissistic, controlling, emotionally distant father. The ripples from that one event effect my life today. It's amazing how much one event can impact the lives of so many.

Thanks for the comment.

DeLaina said...

Well, I was really diggin' this post until all the suicide stuff:-) You're on my train whether you like it or not, and I don't think I'll let you leave. Because, you know, it's all up to me.