The Bridge Jumper

As an officer, I most often see people when they are going through a crisis, and people in crisis behave in ways they otherwise never would.  Take, for instance, the man who had lost his job and his wife, all in the span of a few short weeks.  His life had come to the boiling point, and he had lost his ability to cope.  It is the only explanation for why we found him on the outside of a bridge railing, clinging to the supports as the winter wind whipped his shirt into a frenzy.

My partner and I (at the time I was still assigned to Patrol) were the first ones there, and even though we had no official ‘negotiating skills’, we had to make a connection with this man if we were to try and stop him from letting go.  We approached the man, slowly of course, so as not to startle him.  He had his back to us, his hands behind him gripping the railing, his chest thrown out as if he were on the bow of a great ship, his feet clad only in flip-flops.

Once we had the man’s attention, he turned himself around to face us, and it was then I realized how lucky he was to have simply not slipped and fallen.  The wind was blowing towards us, and with it, the smell of liquor emanating from the man’s pores was overpowering.  I introduced myself by my first name, and with that, the man told me his.  For the sake of this post, I’ll call him John.

For the next forty-five minutes, John and I talked.  Well, actually, let me clarify – John did most of the talking and I did most of the listening.  It was a conversation like no other.  His voice cracking with emotion, John told me he considered himself a horrible husband and father, and that his life was worth nothing.  On three occasions, John lost his grip on the railing and pin-wheeled his arms to keep from falling.  Each time, my heart leapt up into my throat and I involuntarily closed my eyes, knowing if John was trying to keep from falling, we had a chance.

At some point during the conversation, one of our Negotiators, Joe, appeared at my elbow, and the relief I felt was palatable.  Between Joe’s expertise, and the somewhat tenuous bond I had managed to develop with John, we eventually convinced John to climb back over the railing.  When his feet finally touched down on the walkway, John dissolved into tears, telling us over and over he was so sorry.  Then he thanked us for taking the time to listen to him.

So, the next time someone tells you they’re having a bad day, or they’re going through a major life change, or they’re simply feeling down and need someone to talk to, take a moment and lend your ear.  You might just prevent the person from taking that one final step.

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