San Francisco, 1988. The Golden Gate Bridge. It was the middle of the night, a fog swept in from the north and made everything look like a Bogart movie.
Rick was going to jump. He was really going to do it this time. He’d left a note to his wife which read: “…I wish I’d been stronger.”
He stepped toward the ledge and gazed downward. He began to weep. His tears fell several hundred feet into the San Francisco Bay like morbid raindrops.
“If you don’t want me to do this, God,” he shouted to the sky, “then stop me!”
But God, apparently, was taking the Fifth.
The first thing you should know about the Golden Gate Bridge is that it’s not just a bridge. It is an architectural masterstroke.
When the bridge was completed in 1937 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. There was a weeklong party to christen it. Al Jolson sang a few tunes, the sky was lit with fireworks, and 200,000 walked across the bridge in one day. The party got so wild that, 85 years later, people still have hangovers.
America went bananas for the Golden Gate. They’re still wild about it. The bridge is the most photographed structure in the world, surpassing the Great Wall of China, the Sphinx, and Dollywood.
Clocking in at 1.7 miles long, 90 feet wide, and 220 feet above the water, with 80,000 miles of wire passing over the vertical towers, the bridge is nothing short of a human monument.
I have walked the Golden Gate. You get vertigo up there. Big time. The first thing you realize when you’re on the bridge is that the thing never quits rocking. Over 100,000 cars cross the Golden Gate each day thereby turning the bridge into a giant vomit-inducing Disneyland ride.
The bridge is also the number one suicide site in the world. There is no way to know how many have jumped since ‘37, but some estimate the number to be around 2,000.
People travel to the the Golden City from all over the globe just to kill themselves. This is why signs promoting crisis centers plaster the bridge like graffiti, and phone boxes connected to suicide hotlines are mounted at various intervals.
A few years ago, the city began the installation of a steel net beneath the bridge to deter suicides, but it’s not finished yet.
Still, if a guy wants to jump, ultimately, he jumps. And it happens all the time. Often, jumpers take buses or cabs to the bridge. Other times, police officers find abandoned rental cars in the parking lot.
Which brings us back to Rick.
He closed his eyes. Now his toes were dangling off the iron. Another gust blew. He waited.
Still nothing from God.
It’s easy for people to shake their heads in disbelief when they hear of suicide. It’s easy for critics to talk about how nonsensical suicide is, how stupid, how selfish. I’ve heard these critics all my life, ever since my father removed himself from this earth.
There was this erroneous idea surrounding my father’s self-engineered death that maybe if he would have only tried a little harder, or talked to a shrink, or taken pills, or prayed more fervently, that he wouldn’t have done something so stupid.
And perhaps these things would have helped. But the underlying message was: His death was his own fault.
My only answer to these people is this: The chemical sadness in a human brain that induces thoughts of suicide is no different than cancer or lymphoma.
Rick scooted closer to the edge. He began to sob.
Then he was interrupted.
“Hello?” came the voice. “Sir? Hello?”
Rick turned to see an old woman standing behind the guardrail. She was grandmotherly, wearing a scuffed coat and a stocking cap.
She smiled at him.
“Hi,” she said.
Rick looked around. “Hi,” he said in the the kind of phony, happy-go-lucky tone you might use at, say, a PTA meeting.
“Why don’t you come away from there,” she said.
Rick looked at the bay. “I’m sorry, but this is none of your business, lady.”
The woman, however, wasn’t leaving. She spoke to Rick in her mom voice. “I said, why don’t you come away from there.”
She was a one-phrase woman. The lady used these words over and again for nearly half an hour until she went hoarse.
Finally, Rick did as she said. He struggled to crawl over the guardrail onto the bridge. Headlights shot past him in the darkness. And when his feet hit the pavement, he was weeping so hard he almost passed out. He went to thank the woman, but she was not there. So Rick jogged the length of the Golden Gate, from one end to the other, looking for the Samaritan. But he never found her.
There are many who believe there is no God. Even more believe that, even if there is one, he probably doesn’t care about you personally. All I can say to this is: