I woke up New Years day wondering what I would do with my first day of the new year. I had no plans so I procrastinated getting out of bed and stayed cozy under my covers. During a morning scroll online I came across a Facebook post by journalist, Frank Somerville about Bridgewatch Angels, a community organization of volunteers who come together on the Golden Gate Bridge to engage in suicide prevention throughout the year.
As I read about their work in supporting distressed and vulnerable souls on some of the hardest days of the year I was moved to tears. I can’t tell you exactly why I cried, perhaps it reminded me of my teenage years when I struggled with my own thoughts around self worth and loneliness that seemed so insurmountable at the time that ending my life actually felt like it would bring relief. Maybe it was the heart ache of knowing how deeply other people suffer everyday to the point of wanting to end their lives, or maybe it was seeing there are people out there who have the capacity to care so deeply that moved me that morning. I imagine it was a combination of all three that encouraged me to sign up that New Years Day. If I could be there for another person in anyway, to just show up, I would.
I certainly had my reservations. I wondered if I was up for what could potentially be a very intense experience. I thought, “Who am I too do this for someone I don’t know.” “I have ZERO mental health training!” “Is this even safe?” Then I paused and I asked, “What type of year do I want to have?” and “Who do I want to be?” That was all it took. So I got in my car and went.
Around 30 amazing people showed up to be a part of the second shift on the bridge that day. I remember thinking I was surrounded by some incredibly compassionate people who all had their own reasons for coming. We gathered at the visitor center just near the bridge while Mia Munayer, the creator of Bridgewatch Angels and police officer with crisis intervention training along with Mika Celli, a mental health specialist and one of the leaders walked us through what to expect, safety procedures and how to engage. My heart was heavy around the realization of why we were there. There was potentially someone going there that day to end their life. We were instructed on what to look for and what to say, which ranged from everything from a polite hello to a very direct, “Do yo want to kill yourself?” The latter used in the most heightened situations and as a tactic to bring the person into the present moment. As they spoke I was struck by what we were actually doing. It was something so simple yet so seldomly done anymore, we were letting people know,
“I see you.” I see your worth.”
There is nothing more powerful and so simple. I see it everyday in my own work as a, photographer. All we had to do was say Happy New Year, make a connection and gauge the responses. If the person seemed withdrawn or despondent we where to try and gently engage them further. Most people went from a solemn look to a bright cheery smile as they returned the greeting. It was incredible to see how something so small could make such a huge impact and ultimately lead to helping save a persons life. In fact New Years Eve they prevented two people from jumping.
I left my time with Bridgewatch Angels Mika and Mia, my Bridgewatch partner, Satish and all the angel voluniteers with gratitude for these loving and caring souls, and compassion for those who struggle everyday with pain and loneliness. If there is nothing else I do each day I realize I can at the very least be present and kind to those around me. Here is to a more compassionate and engaged 2016.