Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Divine Mercy Sunday: Suicide Survivors of the Golden Gate Bridge

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As harps for the winds of heaven,

My web-like cables are spun;

I offer my span for the traffic of man,

At the gate of the setting sun.

-Chief Engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge 
An Ode to the Golden Gate Bridge


I came across an article from The New Yorker entitled: "Jumpers:  The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge."

I couldn't help but think of Divine Mercy Sunday and have kept it in mind for some time. In the article we get to hear from survivors, the less than 1 percent who get a second chance at life.

Through it all I hear echoed the voice of the Psalmist:

I was hard pressed and was falling,

but the LORD helped me.

My strength and my courage is the LORD,

and he has been my savior.

-Psalm 118

Every two weeks, on average, someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge. It is the world’s leading suicide location. (*)

Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before. Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both say they hurdled over the railing, afraid that if they stood on the chord they might lose their courage. Baldwin was twenty-eight and severely depressed on the August day in 1985 when he told his wife not to expect him home till late. “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” On the bridge, Baldwin counted to ten and stayed frozen. He counted to ten again, then vaulted over. “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” he said. As he crossed the chord in flight, Baldwin recalls, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

Another survivor, Kevin Hines, was eighteen when he took a municipal bus to the bridge one day in September, 2000. After treating himself to a last meal of Starbursts and Skittles, he paced back and forth and sobbed on the bridge walkway for half an hour. No one asked him what was wrong. A beautiful German tourist approached, handed him her camera, and asked him to take her picture, which he did. “I was like, ‘F*** this, nobody cares,’ ” he told me. “So I jumped.” But after he crossed the chord, he recalls, “My first thought was: “What the hell did I just do? I don’t want to die.”

Thousands of people have committed suicide by Jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, less than 1% survive the deadly jump.  What happens to those 1%? 

Ninety-four per cent of the would-be suicides were either still alive or had died of natural causes.  “The findings confirm previous observations that suicidal behavior is crisis-oriented and acute in nature,” Seiden concluded; if you can get a suicidal person through his crisis—Seiden put the high-risk period at ninety days—chances are extremely good that he won’t kill himself later.

The current system for preventing suicide on the bridge is what officials call “the non-physical barrier.” Its components include numerous security cameras and thirteen telephones, which potential suicides or alarmed passersby can use to reach the bridge’s control tower. The most important element is randomly scheduled patrols by California Highway patrolmen and Golden Gate Bridge personnel in squad cars and on foot, bicycle, and motorcycle.

Kevin Briggs, a friendly, sandy-haired motorcycle patrolman, has a knack for spotting jumpers and talking them back from the edge; he has coaxed in more than two hundred potential jumpers without losing one over the side. He won the Highway Patrol’s Marin County Uniformed Employee of the Year Award last year. 

Dr. Jerome Motto, a local psychiatrist and suicide expert, had a patient who committed suicide from the Golden Gate in 1963, but the jump that affected him most occurred in the seventies. “I went to this guy’s apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner,” he told me. “The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.’ ”

Mother Teresa once said "We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.

Joseph Strauss believed that the Golden Gate would demonstrate man’s control over nature, and so it did. No engineer, however, has discovered a way to control the wildness within. (*)

Kevin Hines, who is bipolar, attempted to take his life by jumping off the bridge when he was 19.

Now a suicide prevention advocate, Kevin, is one of just 34 people (less than 1%) who survived falling from the bridge.

Mr Hines said jumping off the bridge was "an instant regret".

"The millisecond my hands left that rail, I thought, 'what have I just done? I don't want to die, God please save me', and then I hit the water," he said.

"You fall four seconds, you hit the water and get vacuum sucked down 70 or 80 ft - when I opened my eyes I was alive.

"All I desperately wanted to do was survive - suicide experts call this being 'shocked into reality'."

Mr Hines said the coastguard arrived at the scene quickly, thanks to a motorist who saw him jump in and rang for help, and that was not his only stroke of good fortune.

"In the water, something started brushing underneath me and bumping me up - I thought at first I was going to be eaten by a shark," he said.

"Later on, a man who saw me on a television show about suicide prevention got in contact to say he'd been there that day - he said it was a sea lion and the people above believed it was keeping you afloat until the coastguard arrived."

I wonder if that was his guardian angel or God working through one of his creatures.  

"Today is not tomorrow - just because you're having mental health struggles today, it doesn't mean you will for the rest of your life," he said.

"I live with chronic suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder, paranoid delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, depression, mania - I am able to cope with them because I know how.

"I use ten steps every day to stay mentally well - they include things like education into my disease, medication, exercise, proper sleeping and eating habits.

"Do not be quiet - stand up and get the help that you deserve." (*)

...



I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.

-Psalm 118 

God spared Kevin Hines life and in that we get to hear one example of the final thoughts that go through someones mind after they take the jump.

Ken Baldwin: “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”  His life too was spared.

What Divine Mercy Sunday reveals to us is that "Everything in life that we think is unfixable is fixable." Thankfully for those who survive, even suicide, or for those who haven't we trust in the Lord.

Maybe you know someone who struggles with mental illness or addiction. Maybe you know someone who has committed suicide.

Maybe you struggle with mental illness or addiction. Maybe you have thought of suicide yourself.

We have to hope that in those moments of "wildness within" when we can't control ourselves, God can save us. God can come through the "locked doors" of our hearts and minds. God can tame the "wildness within". God can fix what we think is "unfixable." God can save us when we are falling.


Christ is really the only "bridge" to the Father. He is the one that can save us when we are falling.  He is the one who can tame the "wildness within".  This Divine Mercy Sunday we realize that nothing is "unfixable."

We have a savior.


As harps for the winds of heaven,

My web-like cables are spun;

I offer my span for the traffic of man,

At the gate of the setting sun.


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