Yesterday morning as I crossed the bridge from our town to the next, I noticed a woman perched on the edge of the railing like a bird readying for flight.
I drove over the bridge, turned around, and went back. It took less than two minutes, but already, two other people had pulled over to help.
The woman–white, skinny, blonde–had been coaxed off the railing by a Latino woman, a friend, who now hugged her tightly. They stood on the tiny viewing platform with a metal grate floor that juts out over the water.
An older African American woman had stopped too, a kind stranger probably on her way to or from church, and she stood on the platform with them, making herself the only obstacle to the railing and the water below. She put her hand on the woman’s back and stood silently, emanating peace and calm.
I remained on the sidewalk. In a whisper I asked if someone had called the police, and they both nodded.
The Latino woman spoke in a soothing tone, You have babies. You can’t do this to your babies. If you need help, you can stay with us. We can help you.
The white woman did not hug back; instead, her hands gripped the railing. I offered her my hand. I thought if she released her grip, we could perhaps get her onto the sidewalk. She looked at me but didn’t seem to see me, her blue eyes glassy and far away. She buried her head against her friend’s shoulder.
They’re going to have to take you to a special hospital. You’re going to have to go to the hospital now.
The white woman screamed a long no and jerked her body backwards violently, falling to the metal floor. The Latino woman wrangled her and held on. Again I asked if the police had been called. Again they nodded.
She went back and forth a few times like that, from limp and silent to thrashing and screaming. There was no talking to her, no negotiating. She was far gone, maybe on drugs, past reason. I worried for the safety of the two women trying to help.
Finally the police arrived and I felt a flood of relief. The first officer approached quickly with his arms out and his palms open. It occurred to me I had no idea how manage a situation like this.
The officer’s movements were swift, but the woman thrashed backwards against him, resistant and screaming. Still, he was able to move her to the sidewalk. Then many other police officers arrived. The African American woman and I left without exchanging a word.
I don’t have much insight to offer here, other than it was an odd morning and I have no instinct for managing a crisis. But I was awake to the details. To the different colors of our skin. To the collective concern for a stranger. To the police officer who ensured our safety. To the calm energy that makes good outcomes possible.
(Post 195 of 365)