Now go outside and look at the sky.
Bridging the Gap
On average every ten days a person jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge and dies.
From its early days onwards the Golden Gate Bridge has attracted more than thirteenhundred people who jumped from its edge to a death in the waters of the Bay. It is at the same time incomprehensible, shocking, and maybe also a little bit understandable why this bridge, why here.
The fluted steel arches painted in that dull shade of red called International Orange have something very dramatic and gothic about them, standing tall in the bluest of skies, an echo of the shapes used in cathedrals.
Its location is a spot of such unique natural beauty that it will take your breath away when you see it for the first time and it will still enthrall you even after seeing it for every day of your life.
It is a powerful monument to the will of human beings and at the same time a graceful reminder of the beauty of the nature that it frames.
It is beautiful and dangerous.
Several years ago a friend of mine jumped and died.
For decades there were discussions in San Francisco about what to do with the bridge. The original railing is only about four feet high, and multiple proposals for higher barriers have been made over the years, often rejected because of aesthetic reasons, and more recently always for financial ones.
Currently, the financial situation is so dire that not even a study to find a solution can be funded without cutting money somewhere else in the tight budget of the bridge and its maintenance. A physical barrier to prevent people from leaping from the edge is probably further away than ever before.
And now a new solution has appeared: Instead of a hard, cold, physical barrier to prevent the body from going over the edge, why not try something different. Something not to save the body, but to save the soul that it houses.
Clearly, it is that soul and the troubled mind of the potential suicide victim that needs our attention. Several survivors of attempted suicides at the bridge have reported later that just a little bit of human attention, a little sliver of hope at the right time would have been enough to stop them from jumping.
The idea is to create small pieces of art that will be fixed to the current railing. These art pieces could be small plaques as well as maybe other forms that can be added to the bridge without being intrusive or safety hazards. These signs will hold phrases that will speak to every person walking across the bridge, inspiring the casual visitors and giving hope to people in need.
References to nature. Quotations about life and beauty. Children's paintings. Philosophical thoughts. A march of ideas and thoughts, all along the bridge walkway.
It may sound simplistic, but walking across the bridge takes time and effort. It is a long uphill climb to the center of the bridge, not something a potential jumper is able to do fast or without at least looking. They will see the messages in regular intervals, and maybe find something that will hold their mind for a moment. Give them sustenance in their spiritual wilderness. Guide them home.
This is such a fantastic idea since it will not substract from the beauty of the bridge, but actually add to it. It will add another dimension to every walk across the bridge, adding the beauty of the human mind to the beauties of nature and engineering.
Oh - and it's cheap, too. It should not be a problem in a city where private money has just built an amazing new art museum to find funding for such a project. This is something that we can start to do now, not in a few years and another hundred suicides later.
Check out sparkletack for a great and touching podcast about this project and The Fluent Self for the project page and a much better explanation of the ideas behind this project.
This one's for you, Mark.