This last Sunday was a beautiful sunny day, a great day for a long walk with a planned stop at one of our favorite Sunday coffee shops. So off we went walking along the seawall briskly enough to feel like we were getting some exercise but without losing the ability to appreciate the beauty surrounding us. I love the magnificence of the water, the sailboats sparkling in the sun, the majestic trees along the shore and the birds feasting on the delights of the sea. We were joined by life and vitality of all sorts: lots of walkers; people out for their morning run; cyclists; dogs sniffing at the moist green grass and the occasional skateboarder. Seeing people out and about being active is one of the things I love about living here.
As we neared the walkway to the bridge we would cross to reach our destination I noticed something was different. What drew my attention were several bouquets of flowers tied to a metal structure along the path. They sparked my interest. It looked like the memorials that you might see along a roadway, a remembrance of someone who has met their end in a traffic accident. Why would that be here on the path I am so familiar with? My curiosity was noticed by someone who called out to me “he jumped off the bridge”. I looked up and saw the gap in the bridge structure right above the gathering of flowers at the same time as I saw the photograph taped to the structure. A young man probably in his mid or late twenties, so young! I thought of my children, their friends and the young men who make such good coffee for me every day and felt immense sadness. My heart ached for his mother and father, his family and friends. I wondered what had made this young man so desperate that he would want to end his short life and determined enough to cross a lane of traffic, climb up onto the railing and then jump.
It is not that I am ignorant about the incidence of suicide in our world especially among young people but even with lots of knowledge about the subject, being so close to it makes it that much more profound. It is also not that the feelings that lead to suicide are a totally foreign state of mind for me but one I have managed to stay on this side of. I believe we all come face to face with desperation, anguish and despair. We all have our own ways of moving through these feelings and I know that some of us do not make it through. As our world becomes more focused on individuals as separate beings we sometimes lose sight of the value of our connections and our critical need for connection and love. As Lucinda Williams wrote and sings in her song: Sweet Old World, “Didn’t you think you were worth anything? Didn’t you think anyone loved you?”What did this young man think and believe?
Walking across the bridge in silence allowed both of us to try to process our reactions to the sadness we had just witnessed. Turning down the street towards the friendly comfortable café we frequent we were once more hit with a situation out of the ordinary that would cause us think and reflect for the rest of the day. The street seemed to be blocked off and as we approached we thought that someone was filming, a common occurrence on the streets of Vancouver. Yet it did not seem quite right. No the cameras here were from the local television networks and this was police tape. I asked a woman at the scene what was happening. She told us that a young man out walking his dog at 9:30 on this sunny Sunday morning was shot several times in the chest. Many hours later here he still lay covered by a blanket surrounded by countless policemen milling around doing various things we did not understand. Our coffee shop was of course closed, it happened right across the street from it. We learned later that the victim was 29 years old. It was reported that he was known to police had a criminal record and was an alleged member of a local gang did not make us any less distressed for him and his family. It just seemed so intense. He was walking his dog on these beautiful calm tree-lined streets we know so well and now he was dead. It seemed so abrupt and made me think about the value of life and every minute we have. We wondered what happened to his dog in the flurry of bullets. Once again my heart ached for this young man, his parents, his friends and family. And I wondered about the choices he had made to live the way he did and to put himself at this risk.
It was turning out to be a quite a day!
I know I should not have done it but when I was back at home I looked at the news on the internet. This action led to number three of the “bad things happen in threes” myth. I saw yet another heartbreaking story about a young man. This time a young man in his late 20’s in another area of the city was being charged with the murder of his father and the attempted murder of his mother. Again I wondered what had made this young man so full of anger and other emotions that would allow him to do the unthinkable. And again my heart ached for this young man, the death of his father and the unbelievable pain that his mother is in and is yet to endure.
Three young men who had made choices, two gone too soon and one forever changed. The lives of their families and friends and our lives also impacted. This was more than I could deal with in one day. It is raining today. I like to think it is washing away some of the sadness I witnessed and felt on that sunny Sunday.
Irene McDermott © 2011