A nineteen-year-old boy jumped off a bridge. “I remember the fall vividly,” Kevin Hines says. “25 stories, 75mph, 4 seconds.” His back was shattered, but he survived.
Kevin’s childhood behavior was erratic. At 17 he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
By the time of the suicide attempt, “I’d been dealing with this diagnosis for 2 ½ years,” and come to believe that he was his parent’s “biggest burden. If I didn’t die by my hands,” his thinking went, he, and his bi-polar-ness, “would ruin their lives.”
He drafted six suicide notes, liked the seventh. On THE DAY of, his worried father offered to skip work, and they together go see movies. Now resolved, Kevin was calm, an actor in a play his father could not know the script of…Father and son parted, father to work, son took the bus, to the Golden Gate Bridge.
Crying As He Walked
At a walking stride of 2.25 feet per step, it would take him 1995 steps to reach the middle of the bridge. Two voices were in his head, one voice his, the other voice, not his.
California in September, tourists everywhere, he was crying as he walked. He needed just “one person to see my pain. I could not reach out. I needed someone else to reach in.”
One person stopped him. A tourist, could he take her picture? “She walked away and I said, ‘Nobody cares.’ The voice in my head screamed Jump Now and I did.
“When my hands left that rail—and my legs curled over—as soon as I left the bridge, I thought, I don’t want to die.”
His father had reached out, been rejected. Why would the reach-out of a bridge walking stranger make a difference?
A psychiatrist named Jerry Motto had been in WWII, knew the power of letters from home. For five years he conducted an experiment. Realizing that many suicides occurred after “attempters” were newly released from hospitalization, he began to send half of them what he called “caring letters.” The other half received nothing.
The letters were short, sincere, hand written, hope-you’re-doing-okay themes, kindness with a postage stamp, mailed in consistent intervals.
People scoffed. Motto kept it up. Some patients wrote back. “It is beautiful to get a letter from you.” One read, “You’re the most persistent son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever encountered, so you must really be sincere in your interest in me.”
After five years they found that the suicide rate of the ones who received letters was half that of those who did not receive letters.
That Invisibility Feeling
Suicide was never close-close, but close enough. I count four. I vividly recall the last conversation I had with each one, no hint, no clue. If one were weeping in my presence, surely I’d have responded.
I’ve known some down times, even Low Down. It makes me empathetic. Part of writing this story is to preach to myself, about realizing that in any crowd, many are wounded, some are fragile, and everyone needs to know they matter.
I’m on the introvert side of the personality scale. In large groups, I often feel “invisible.” Time after time, I depart from a crowd emptier than when I arrived, not one person having shown any interest in me or my life. If I was counting on “them” to validate that I mattered, I’d be in trouble. (That last sentence can only be followed by this: to other people in the same crowd, I am “Them”. Did I do unto, as I wished to be done unto…)
That invisibility feeling, if you make it worse, or make it last longer, I wonder if that is part of the recipe…”
My Father, The Meek
We all know how warm it feels when outgoing, charismatic personalities shine their attention upon us. But what about the rest of us, the not-so-outgoing? How do we of quiet wiring do any good, among the people we interact with?
My father comes to mind. He too was socially timid, but he had good intentions. In his old age he required of himself, one good deed a day. He’d go to the nearby Market Basket, just to interact with random strangers. He delighted in small moments, offering people to cut their cart ahead of his in the checkout line, saying by action, I see you, you matter.
Letter From A Student
Harry Methvin, a retired teacher, got a letter from an “invisible” student he’d taught years ago. Her father had died, she’d “not taken it well.” Upon returning to school, still vulnerable, she was made fun of by schoolmates for going to counseling.
She wrote him, “I had decided to go home, and empty out the medicine cabinet.” But first, she had the last class of the day, with Mr. Methvin. He saw her coming, and went to her. He hugged her, and told her, he was soooo glad to have her back. They walked into the classroom, side by side. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, for him. But to her, in her state of being…
“Mr. Methvin, I have written a collection of poems and I want to dedicate them to my daddy and you. My daddy because he gave me life and you because you taught me life was worth living.”
His copy of the book was inscribed, “Over the years I must have written a thousand letters to you, only to tear them up. Not only did you teach me English but also the value of a human life. If one person’s compassion and understanding can do that, it lets me know mankind is not doomed.”
The Big W’s
To be alive is to have certain W questions. Who am I? What really matters? What am I supposed to do with my life? Whatever your answer, that’s your faith.
I have my faith. I believe in unseen things, two forces at play, Good and Evil. I feel them, I see them, like the unseen wind moving the leaves. I believe that Good and Evil are fighting over the prize of me, my soul.
I pray to God, to Good, to be with me throughout the day. I don’t expect Him to make a priority out of my little errands of life, with me at the grocery store… but I fully expect Him to be All There, intensely There, at the great, sacred moment of my death, His attendance showing the value of my soul.
I feel safe in that. That faith also reassures me of those who die by suicide. Nobody dies alone. What better a companion, in the intimacy of death, than the One that knows All, understands All, and loves Perfectly…”
Imagine Never Being Asked A Question…
There is great power in small acts of kindness. Some people are never asked a question. Some people are never smiled at. Some walk in public, and nobody meets their gaze.
I remember my father, one of his little do goods, complimenting a little girl about how pretty her hair ribbon was. She smiled, her mother smiled, and off they went, strangers still, but smiles lit bright.
I will try to go where this story tells me to go, towards sensitivity, kindness, looking for opportunities to encourage. In my eyes, actions and words, may people get the daily bread of I See You, I Wish You Well. Yes, I’ll have to work at it…
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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is dedicated to our better angels. When we do right, they let us know. Uncle P can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.