Monday, June 14, 2010

a cup of tea

I came across the following article today that I wanted to share with you. 
"SYDNEY – In those bleak moments when the lost souls stood atop the cliff, wondering whether to jump, the sound of the wind and the waves was broken by a soft voice. "Why don't you come and have a cup of tea?" the stranger would ask. And when they turned to him, his smile was often their salvation.
For almost 50 years, Don Ritchie has lived across the street from Australia's most notorious suicide spot, a rocky cliff at the entrance to Sydney Harbour called The Gap. And in that time, the man widely regarded as a guardian angel has shepherded countless people away from the edge. What some consider grim, Ritchie considers a gift. How wonderful, the former life insurance salesman says, to save so many. How wonderful to sell them life.
"You can't just sit there and watch them," says Ritchie, now 84, perched on his beloved green leather chair, from which he keeps a watchful eye on the cliff outside. "You gotta try and save them. It's pretty simple."
Since the 1800s, Australians have flocked to The Gap to end their lives, with little more than a 3-foot (1 meter) fence separating them from the edge. Local officials say about one person a week commits suicide there, and in January, the Woollahra Council applied for 2.1 million Australian dollars ($1.7 million) in federal funding to build a higher fence and overhaul security. In the meantime, Ritchie keeps up his voluntary watch. The council recently named Ritchie and Moya, his wife of 58 years, 2010's Citizens of the Year. He's saved 160 people, according to the official tally, but that's only an estimate. Ritchie doesn't keep count. He just knows he's watched far more walk away from the edge than go over it. (..)
Something about Ritchie exudes a feeling of calm. His voice has a soothing raspiness to it, and his pale blueeyes are gentle. (..) Some he speaks with are fighting medical problems, others suffering mental illness. Sometimes, the ones who jump leave behind reminders of themselves on the edge — notes, wallets, shoes. Ritchie once rushed over to help a man on crutches. By the time he arrived, the crutches were all that remained.
But he remains available to lend an ear, though he never tries to counsel, advise or pry. He just gives them a warm smile, asks if they'd like to talk and invites them back to his house for tea. Sometimes, they join him.
"I'm offering them an alternative, really," Ritchie says. "I always act in a friendly manner. I smile." (..)
By offering compassion, Ritchie helps those who are suicidal think beyond the terrible current moment, says psychiatrist Gordon Parker, executive director of the Black Dog Institute, a mood disorder research center that has supported the council's efforts to improve safety at The Gap.
"They often don't want to die, it's more that they want the pain to go away," Parker says. "So anyone that offers kindness or hope has the capacity to help a number of people." (..)
In 2006, the government recognized Ritchie's efforts with a Medal of the Order of Australia, among the nation's highest civilian honors. It hangs on his living room wall above a painting of a sunshine someone left in his mailbox. On it is a message calling Ritchie "an angel that walks amongst us."
He smiles bashfully. "It makes you — oh, I don't know," he says, looking away. "I feel happy about it."
But he speaks readily and fondly of one woman he saved, who came back to thank him. He spotted her sitting alone one day, her purse already beyond the fence. He invited her to his house to meet Moya and have tea. The couple listened to her problems and shared breakfast with her. Eventually, her mood improved and she drove home.
A couple of months later, she returned with a bottle of champagne. And about once a year, she visits or writes, assuring them she is happy and well. (..)
Despite all he has seen, he says he is not haunted by the ones who were lost. He cannot remember the first suicide he witnessed, and none have plagued his nightmares. He says he does his best with each person, and if he loses one, he accepts that there was nothing more he could have done. Nor have he and Moya ever felt burdened by the location of their home.
"I think, 'Isn't it wonderful that we live here and we can help people?'" Moya says, her husband nodding in agreement.
Their life has been a good one, they say. They raised three beautiful daughters and now have three grandchildren to adore. They have traveled the world, and their home is decorated with statues and masks from their journeys. Ritchie proudly points out a dried, shellacked piranha — a souvenir from their vacation to the Amazon, where he insisted on swimming with the creatures (to Moya's dismay).
Until about a year ago, the former Navy seaman enjoyed a busy social life, regularly lunching with friends. But battles with cancer and his advancing years have taken their toll, and now he spends most days at home with Moya, buried in a good book. His current read: the Dalai Lama's "The Art of Happiness."
Every now and then, he looks up from his books to scan the horizon for anyone who might need him. He'll keep doing so, he says, for as long as he's here.
And when he's not?
He chuckles softly.
"I imagine somebody else will come along and do what I've been doing."
He gazes through the glass door to the cliff outside. And his face is lit with a smile.
Text: By KRISTEN GELINEAU, Associated Press Writer, source: Yahoo News
After reading it I thought back to a young girl, she couldn't have been more then 16 years old who we met at a campsite once. We got talking about her life, and she later divulged that she had already made an attempt to kill herself using a gas oven. From the details and her demeanor we could tell this was not your teenage kid just wanting some attention. I just remember that Nico and I stayed very calm, let her speak and ask questions.
I think many of us forget the roles we can play in strangers lives. It doesn't hurt you to smile more often, but it can be painful for others if we don't. Here's to all the angels inside of us!

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