My family saw a man standing on the ledge of the Golden Gate Bridge contemplating suicide today. We were on a bike ride across the bridge and back on a gloriously clear spring day. As we took some pictures near the south tower, we noticed the crowds strangely looking toward the center of the bridge and not out at San Francisco or Alcatraz, as is often the case. Two police officers on bicycles hurried up and a tourist near the tower pointed them toward a small group of people gathered near the rail about forty yards from us. One of the cops uttered, “Shit,” and they both pedaled hard to the location where a young man in a green sweatshirt and bluejeans stood beyond the rail, his back to the bridge.
My family stayed where we were and except for a few more onlookers, the majority of the pedestrian and bicycle traffic continued and seemed not to notice the crisis. I could see the two police talking with the man, who, at this point had turned around and faced the bridge, though he squatted on his haunches and didn’t look people in the eye. We eventually continued our trek across the bridge. At Vista Point, on the north side of the bridge we saw another police officer watching the scene through a pair of binoculars. I figured as long as he was there, the man was still on the bridge.
The Coast Guard deployed boats and jet skis near the bridge, but whether that is standard procedure whenever there is a possible jumper or only when they know they need to retrieve a body, I am not sure. I do not know what happened to the man. I only know that after several minutes, the police officer with the binoculars was gone and the Coast Guard vessels broke formation. On our return trip across the bridge, we saw no signs of the prior events. The crowd had dispersed, the police were gone, and new sightseers enjoyed their journey across the landmark, oblivious to the fact that just a short time before, a young man at least contemplated ending his life by jumping into San Francisco Bay.
The experience horrified me. Again, I do not know whether the policemen were successful in talking the man back onto the bridge. I pray that they were. I am not sure what was the appropriate response to this man’s situation. We left because we knew there was not much we could do—the police who work on the bridge are well trained in suicide prevention. During my internship as a hospital chaplain I saw death, but I have never seen a suicide. Today I did not want to watch a man take his life. I did not want that image in my memory. At the same time, I wonder if I should have stood as a witness, to be able to name I saw that man. To be a testament for him. To claim to someone his life is worthwhile. Should I have watched because though he may not want to live, I cannot accept that he would no longer exist?
I whispered prayers into my son’s ear as we rode along the bridge, asking for God’s mercy to be on that man. I asked that he might know the glory and hope of Christ’s resurrection. I prayed that he might know he is deeply loved. I hope he survived. I hope he came back onto the bridge.
For some reason, this passage from Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing comes to mind:
Things separate from their stories have no meaning. They are only shapes. Of a certain size and color. A certain weight. When their meaning has become lost to us they no longer have even a name. The story on the other hand can never be lost from its place in the world for it is that place. And that is what was to be found here. The corrido. The tale. And like all corridos it ultimately told one story only, for there is only one to tell.