Occasionally, I am asked how I come up with column ideas every couple of weeks. I have no good answers; they just come.
I can say ideas are frequently generated by current events, especially those that raise a question for which I have no easy answers. My mind seems to seize upon the difficult and unexplained and pokes me with unrelenting inquiry. On many occasions, my own memory and experience draws me to a subject.
For example, I fully intended to write a different column than the one I am writing. Then, I read the news report of the woman who took her life on the Olympic Discovery Trail. People walking the trail saw her with the gun and asked her what she was doing. Seconds later, she was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to her head.
The news report went on to remind readers that two men had jumped from Eighth Street bridges since the beginning of June. The earlier reports were still fixed in my mind from my first read; in part, due to my own experience with a so-called “jumper.”
Bridges taking their toll
I am a native of Seattle and often crossed the Aurora Bridge traveling east to west in the city. Unless you rode mindlessly down I-5, you know the Aurora bridge, the majestic span built in 1932 to replace the drawbridge that connected highway 99 from one side of Lake Union to the other.
One day in the early 1970s, I was driving from my workplace on Capitol Hill to Ballard to visit my mother, who was hospitalized. I was preoccupied with worry following my morning call to her the first full day after surgery. She was giggling and talking about seeing things scampering across the walls of her room.
Our conversation couldn’t go much farther; I hung up and called the nurses’ station. They were aware of her condition and had given her medication ordered by her doctor. They couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me anything else. I suggested they stop calls from coming to her room.
I stayed in the outer lane, so I could exit at the end of the bridge and came to a stop behind a car stopped in the lane. It took me a few seconds to focus and realize the car I was behind and my car were the only cars stopped on the bridge. Others were zipping by. I assumed it was a mechanical problem.
Then I saw him.
A man was on the other side of the bridge railing, looking down and apparently getting ready to let go. I quickly got out of my car and stopped within a few feet of him. I was very hesitant about getting closer. I called out to him with a gentle but loud voice so he would hear me but not feel threatened.
“What are you doing?” He didn’t respond.
Knowing I needed to distract him, I asked, “Look at me. Look at me,” trying my best to be gentle.
He turned and looked at me. His face was red and distorted by what looked like great anguish. I thought that he may have been drinking.
“Can you tell me what you are doing?” I asked again.
He turned away and I called him to look at me again. I was trying to subtly wave one arm to attract attention. There was no way I could physically stop him, and our connection hung like a frayed thread at best.
In what seemed like a long time, we were finally noticed. Two men ran up behind him and hooked their arms under his shoulders and dragged him over the rail. I was relieved but still stunned.
The man fought his captors who forced him to the ground where he continued to fight. Strangely protective of his dignity, I wanted them to let him stand but, of course, they were right; he well could have bolted over the rail.
By now more people, including police had arrived and they were able to restrain him and get him into a police car. The policeman handed me the man’s wallet and keys and I realized he thought we were together.
I said no and gave his belongings back to the police. He took my name, but I never heard from him again.
I arrived at the hospital and my mother’s room. By now, the effects of the sedative had worn off. She wasn’t laughing and said no more about strange creatures dancing on walls. Her face was slack, her eyes barren and her voice was empty as if she was entering her own version of climbing on the rail.
My heart was breaking for my mother and for the man on the bridge.
Twice that day, I looked into the eyes of utter despair and, in both instances, felt utter helplessness.
There is not one of us who has not encountered the desperate and the depressed and felt the same. Far too many of us escape the pain of our own lives – past, present or both – and end our lives through alcohol, drugs, cars, bridges and guns.
How lonely it must be.
I am so sad when I read about or meet the bridge jumpers, the woman on the Olympic Discovery Trail, the young drug addicts who risks death, and the alcoholic who lives and loses his/her life in a meaningless haze.
Maybe feeling sadness is the most any of us can do; that and attempting a connection and offering a lifeline when crossing a bridge, walking a trail; that and flagging for help because we can’t do any of it without help.
None of it seems like enough. There are just no easy or good answers.
Bertha D. Cooper is retired from a 40-plus year career as a health care administrator focusing on the delivery system as a whole. She still does occasional consulting. She is a featured columnist at the Sequim Gazette. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.