Building a culture of caring

Yesterday’s suicide attempt on I-94 reminds us that we need to support and care for each other.

Melanie Williams

On Monday morning, I got on the No. 113 bus headed to work from my Lyndale Avenue apartment. We got no further than the onramp to Interstate 94 when we got stuck in standstill traffic. Looking down the highway, we could see police cars and cones blocking cars from moving any further. We assumed there had been a car accident and expected to be moving any minute.

After 20 minutes of not moving an inch, another student on the bus pulled out his phone and called his father, a Minneapolis Fire Department employee. He talked for a moment, pausing only to ask what bridge our bus was stopped in front of and then put the phone away. He didn’t say much to me, but he did say, “It’s a jumper,” before heading up to tell the bus driver that it might be a while.

My first reaction to the news was similar to everyone else on the bus — to pull out my phone and call my boss since I was already twenty minutes late to work. Then the complaining and heckling started.

I’m pretty sure we weren’t actually within ear shot of the bridge, where we now realized we could actually see the man who was perched precariously on the wrong side of the guard rail. And that’s a good thing. Because I’m pretty sure that if the guy had heard what some of the people on the bus were saying, he would have almost surely carried out his plan and ended up on the pavement.

Most of the hecklers were in the back of the bus with me and were yelling things like, “Just jump already!” and, “Just go home and swallow some rat poison! Let me get to work!” Though other riders weren’t actually yelling, you could see them acting out their annoyance, calling friends or employers to tell them what was going on or plotting to open the bus’s emergency exits so they could find alternative transportation to their various destinations. At first, I was just as annoyed and frantic to get to work as everyone else. But the heckling and joking about the suicide attempt bothered me.

After we had been waiting nearly 45 minutes, officers talked the man into coming near an opening they had cut in the fence — they grabbed him, put him into an ambulance and took him to Hennepin County Medical Center. The entire bus breathed a unanimous sigh of relief. One person, previously silent, even shouted a joyful “Way to go!” as the bus started rumbling toward the bridge.

It took me until I was comfortably seated in my office to really put my feelings together about the incident. I didn’t know this man, but I felt for him. Beyond that, I realized that as I had watched him on the bridge, deciding whether or not to nosedive onto the interstate, when most concerned people would have been praying for him, I was sending my sorrowful best wishes to his family and friends.

When I was a teenager, I lost a friend and teammate to suicide. Throughout the years, I almost lost three more. And there was a time when my loved ones almost prematurely lost me. The worst pain I have ever felt was the guilt of not being there to help.

Sitting at work, it really hit me how many people there are in this country who need help and support that isn’t being provided. As a society, we do so little to recognize the rampant spread of mental health problems. I try to support my family and friends in need, but why have I never thought to have the courtesy to do the same for anyone else? We need to spread awareness, spread caring, spread support and realize that the current state of humanity is just as desperate as that man on the bridge.

Why do we heckle when we can encourage? Why do we care more about an hour of work than a human life? With the current lack of adequate mental health care, we need to be providing coverage to one another, not just covering our own backsides.

 

Melanie Williams welcomes comments at [email protected].