I saw something this morning that was disturbing, and I’ve struggled all day as to how I would write about it. Not IF I would, but rather how. It began as traffic slowed, and then stopped, on the Matthews Bridge.
It was not quite 7:30 this morning. I always give myself plenty of time to get to work on Fridays simply because traffic can happen any time, and I have an 8:30 tech rehearsal for the show every week. I figure that, if I target 7:30 for the office, I’ve got time to be stuck in traffic. It’s saved me on more than one occasion.
This morning, though, I could see what was happening before I got to the scene of the incident. Traffic was already stopped eastbound on the bridge. but the police were still allowing one lane of cars through westbound. I thought “maybe I’ll still be at work on time”. It was not to be. Officers stopped the car 6 ahead of me, and closed the bridge. There were several police cars, a group of officers in the road, and a lone figure on the wrong side of the guardrail.
At times, she crouched down, clinging to the guardrail, looking as if she were determined to jump. As time went on, she relented, stood, put first one leg, and then 20 minutes later, the other back over the rail. The police escorted her to the waiting cruiser, put her inside, and life went on as normal. I made the show on time.
As I waited on the bridge, having called the station alerting them to the fact that I might NOT make the show, I found it impossible to be angry with this woman. Had I been back in the backup that I’m sure stretched to Regency Mall before it was all over, I might have felt differently. We all have a tendency to fume when we’re being kept from where we need to be, and don’t know why. Listening to traffic reports are no help in that regard, since there’s an unspoken rule that we don’t say why when there’s a suicide threat. Which is one of the reasons I agonized over this post.
I can’t say enough about the officers who handled the situation. I wasn’t close enough to hear what they said to this clearly distraught woman, but obviously they cared a great deal about not losing her over the side. The situation was handled, at least from my observation, efficiently, professionally, and with the safety of everyone in mind.
Among those of us on the bridge watching the human drama play out there was little animosity for either the woman or the police. Yes, there was the easy grumbling of those of us so far up in the line that “why couldn’t they just let the few of us here go on through”, but I’m sure these officers were working strictly by the book. Everyone seemed to realize that some ones life actually was at risk, and I think we were all just a bit dumbstruck that we were witnessing it. At one point, I was chatting with another guy who’d gotten out of his car, and he went to sit on the concrete guardrail of the bridge. “You might not want to sit there right now”, I said to him. “Oh, right, I guess not”, he replied to me.
I had mixed feelings about even taking the camera out of the bag. I wanted to respect the person, and the job being done by the police. But I’m a journalist at heart, and I felt compelled to record what happened. In some ways, I wish I’d have worked for a clearer picture of the woman who threatened to jump. It would have been easy, since no one was really paying attention to what we were doing, and I had a nice long lens to get close to the scene. In the end, and this is one of many reasons why I’ll never win a Pulitzer for Photojournalism, I decided that her privacy was as important as my “getting the shot”. Maybe a professional photojournalist would have thought differently. Probably so. But the call was mine, and nobody was clamoring for a photograph, it was just for me, to remember what I saw here today.
I have no idea what drives someone to the point that they think an 80 foot fall from a bridge is a good idea today. Or, if not a good idea, at least their best option. The good news is these guys in blue uniforms were able to convince her otherwise. And I hope each of them went home today knowing they’d done something pretty extraordinary, and that it was a good day.
I hope I’m able take from this a new perspective the next time I’m stuck in the backup not knowing what is the issue. Because when that happens, and it will, somebody could be seriously having the worst day of their life, and for me, it’s just an inconvenience.