On a spectacularly fine day last week, I was taking my dog Sunny for her morning walk. Down the hill and across Warburton Bridge we went so I could glory in the beautiful view of the Hudson River. In the middle of the bridge on the opposite side an attractive young male also seemed raptly observing the river view. Beyond the town’s parking lot below, the majestic Palisades soar over the water.
After we crossed the street at the end of the block, we started back on the other side and saw the nicely dressed young man still standing there. Hmm? Was he perhaps waiting to meet someone? Or contemplating our town’s controversial landmark water tower? I decided I’d stop and say “It’s really gorgeous isn’t it?”
Yet on drawing near, Sunny’s usual tail wagging greeting received no response-- nor did he make friendly eye contact with me. Since everyone isn’t a dog person I just pulled Sunny on by. At the end of the bridge we paused (at the first tree) and I glanced back. For some reason I had a fleeting impulse to go back and try to talk to him.
But what would I say to explain my return? The thought popped into mind that I could jokingly ask “if he was standing there trying to decide whether to jump or not?” But how stupid! I instantly rejected such a rude and intrusive remark. Did I want to come across as an eccentric village busybody? Not on your life. I turned away and proceeded home. Ten minutes later the young man’s 21 year old body was found dead, crushed on the concrete below.
When I heard the news I realized that I had failed to act on the knowledge I’ve gained from psychology and experience. In public or group settings people hesitate to offer help, partly because they fear to incur embarrassment from having misread the situation. Thus the rules: MYOB and don’t talk to strangers.
The second crucial findings I had forgotten are that gut intuitions, feelings, images or jokes suddenly appearing in consciousness can be bringing messages from our ever vigilant evolutionarily adapted non conscious mind. (As in Blink) If I had not so instantly lambasted my “irrational” feelings as ridiculous, I might have recalled that last winter a young woman had leaped off this same bridge at this identical spot. Youthful suicides imitate one another, as our river towns’ tragic cases prove.
Lessons learned? Again I commit myself to my own rule. Whether or not you may make a difference, rush in, offer help and to hell with looking like a fool. Secondly, never dismiss too fast your emotional and intuitive feelings. As Henry James put it, “Become a person upon whom nothing is lost.”