There is a place in England west of Eastbourne. It is known as Beachy Head. It is part of the Seven Sisters, a cliff formation on the Channel coast. Beachy Head is also referred to as the “Cliffs of Despair” in Tom Hunt’s book of the same title (Tyrean Martinsson’s book has thrown me another curve ball here!). It is one of those most popular locations sought out by suicidal people because jumping down from Beachy Head is a dead-sure thing in 99 percent of the cases.
In my native town of Stuttgart, there was a tower of despair – the TV tower that was the model for Seattle’s Space Needle. I remember that during all of my childhood there were newspaper articles about people who jumped to their death from the observation deck, and I was always wary when up there whether anybody would do it while there were other visitors. Legend had it that one person jumped and ended up crashing through the tarp of a passing moving truck, ending up (and surviving) on a sofa. It would have been as impossible as Puccini’s Tosca jumping from the pinnacles of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo into the river Tiber … Those news articles seemed so outlandish … Until one of my teachers (English and sports), a bright, handsome young man of 26 years, took his life by jumping. It was shocking to say the least. I’ll never forget that day in 6th grade. They put up high grills later. Too late for this young man.
Cliffs of Despair … How do we know that somebody has mentally arrived in such a place? When it is still such a stigma to be judged mentally ill, how would anybody entrust somebody else with their situation? Especially when medication often enough enables people to keep a bright, smiling front to others. Like a former classmate and friend’s mother who took pills to end her life. Like a friend’s father who jumped from his office window. We only seem to learn the full truth when we are facing the loss.
So, if we can’t sense the despair, how can we hold them back from that final, fatal, physical step? Aren’t we, as a judgmental society with our craving for perfection, such a cliff in ourselves? Would I perceive if anybody in my vicinity nursed the thought of suicide, and would I be able to talk them out of it in hinting that there is always another option? A mental jump away from the abyss. Prayers and trusting in an Almighty presence who will help? Or talking openly about the angst, the despair to somebody sworn to professional secrecy, such as a therapist or a theologian?
Maybe we have been in place close by, ourselves, and our own silence about our despair discourages others to open up. A career becoming a dead-end. Betrayal from a friend or family. Mobbing. Abuse. All causes that make us think that we are worthless and that there is no way out of the situation. But if we manage to get there mentally, there always is. A change of career. An open word with those friends or family members, even if it ends in closing doors – others WILL open. Seeking alliance with others away from the mob, the abuser.
The Cliff of Despair around here is the Narrows Bridge. It is the railroad tracks. It’s a shot-gun. An over-dose. Oh, so many dreadful ways to exit a life that has so many more opportunities if only one manages to walk around the bend mentally.
Can we be more open-minded? Take away the stigma, so people confide more? So we can support them on their way back to hope and even anticipation of what wonderful things they might yet discover in their journey on earth?
Your turn to ponder!