Shared by Steve
I slammed the door. I was furious and heart broken. I would not put up with it. If she was not going to love me then I would go elsewhere. I did not have to put up with this.
But also, I was mortified. What would people think? I could not disguise the failure of my marriage and therefore my life. The ignominy.
I walked. I walked for miles. Part of me observed myself, while the seemingly larger part of me wept and fumed. I swore, shouted, hated. I cried, despaired and shut down. This shutdown meant that some of the walk was spent thinking about ludicrously irrelevant things like the paper I had to write, or the meeting I should call. I flushed with shame. I couldn’t even despair constantly. I wondered how this would be portrayed in the film about my life. I wondered what losing all sense of control would feel like. There could be rest there. But mostly I could not face the ruin.
What had I done? How could I have failed so profoundly? How could she hate me so, and our child just another weapon with which to wound me?
I didn’t know where I wandered. Yet I saw each step. I wanted to abandon my control of my steps but they took me in a direction that I couldn’t quite ignore. But I was not yet clear what I planned to do.
Even madness was not total.
I came to the bridge. It was new and very high. It was about nine in the evening and the number of cars had reduced. The wet road glistened in the streetlights that almost obscured rather than illuminated. I was cold from the inside out. My anguish had faded to a cold fury: I will not tolerate this; I will not be abandoned again.
I knew where I was and why I was here. I walked to the centre of the span. The black river flowed turgidly far below. I pictured my body falling over and over on the way down, the blow as I hit the water. How far would I sink before coming back up? Would I be conscious after hitting the water? Although this was an extremely high bridge I might survive such a fall into water. I did not want to suffer anymore. I didn’t want the pain and panic of drowning. I just wanted it all to be over.
I wandered back to that part of the span that was over a road. I considered my spot. I estimated the effect of the wind. I wanted to avoid the roofs of the factory. I didn’t want to land on a car. There was no point in damaging anyone else just because I was over. I wondered how far from the bridge would I land. I did not have a way of estimating. Would I jump, leap or dive?
I decided on the place: precision in a dying world.
There were two fences bordering the bridge; one to stop pedestrians and the other for bridge-workers. I needed to go over the edge. I climbed the fences and faced the abyss. I leaned backwards with my elbows on the fence. I looked back. The few passing cars were unlikely to see me. There were no pedestrians. Even if someone did try to stop me, there was no possibility that they could reach me in time. My death was now certain.
A calm settled on me. With nothing to stop me I could take my time. I looked at the pools of orange streetlight so far below. I would fly from the darkness into the dull light. I was always attracted by the dull light and scared of the bright one. An old reference to the Bardo Thödol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I read as a teenager and which had never fully left me. I was profoundly alone. I did not consider my wife and child. I did not remember my mother and siblings. I had achieved isolation at last. Here was the solution. I could escape it all with no consequences. A simple shift in my centre of gravity. There would be no one who could follow me and hope to catch me. Never mind that I had got it so very wrong, I could see that peace lay on the other side of despair.
What would I do after death?
A thought disturbed the calm I had found. Little ripples from an unheard pebble. But the ripples grew and spread. I would have to do it again. I would live another life until I created the conditions that faced me now. And I would stand in a similar moment deciding whether to die or not. And the pain finally hit me. I could not face this again. I could not live through that trauma again. I knew that the story would probably be different, with different characters and circumstances. But the essence would be the same. I would bring me back to this moment. I could not escape it.
And the sense of having been here before coalesced. I had made such a choice before. I sensed my lungs full of water as I sank into the mud-tasting water. Not only had I been here before and chosen death, I had done this many times. Beyond count. I kept coming to this watershed and choosing water. I recalled an earlier experience where I remembered my birth. I had been born with fluid on my lungs. I had been born drowning. This desperate life that I wanted to leave kept being replayed up to this choice.
The vision of having to live such a life again was horrifying. It was easier to go on and play out this hand than be dealt another. I was more scared of replaying the situation than seeing how it played out. Going on was the lesser of two evils. Broken and fear-filled I climbed back over the fences aware of the irony that here I was failing to kill myself. Failure was rife tonight.
Finally, I crossed the bridge.
Later, I walked home feeling that I had a lot of fresh air, my face weathered. I had paid some price that evening and had been given free passage for a while.
And now, coming back to this, I struggled to even remember what the failure was that had caused such torment. Half a life-time later, still married, I know that I have failed more often and in greater ways than that night. Failure in those terms has so much less grip on me. When I got back home I found out that my wife had been extremely worried for me as I had never stormed out before and had been away for hours. She was horrified to have hurt me so with what she had said. While she did say it in anger with me, she did not mean it the way I took it. She did mean to express disappointment in me, but it was me that interpreted it as failure. We did what all marriages need to do. We talked openly, and were authentic, and found a connection that we could build on. To this day, we can still find our way back from an argument.
My thoughts of suicide stopped that night. Occasionally when I am tired I can have echoes of shadows of wanting to end some pain, but I take that now as a call, or an early warning system, to do something about it – usually to get more sleep.
I had been there, gone to the brink and chosen to live. That night I freed myself from that cycle of surrender to failure. Once I accepted that I could fail, failure no longer dominates. I was, to some degree, free of it.
It has been reasonable that I have considered that decision to be a major turning point in my life. Although I didn’t die that day, something was born. Turning away from the precipice was turning towards a journey of enquiry into what motivated me and how to choose again.
And it would be understandable why one would focus on the ‘what’ and ‘who’ of that voice. When some years later I found A Course in Miracles, I began to understand who and what that voice was that spoke in the calm. It was the voice of reason. It did not try and convince me of my obligations, or how others might react, for those concerns were completely outside of my thinking at the time. In my madness I was totally fixated on how hurt and ashamed I felt. Rather, the voice’s question reminded me what I already believed about reincarnation and set in motion the thought process that led to my decision that it was better to live through rather than die of. And it was the Course that convinced me that voice was the Voice of God within me. And that it is always available to me whenever I go quiet. I have found working with others that this voice is common, being in all of us who listen for it. There is a voice for God that whispers hope in our darkest moments and speaks of a better way.
Now I consider that the most significant aspect of this event was that I found a quiet part of my mind despite all that was going on. In this quiet I could hear the voice, and reason led to my decision to live. But it was the quiet away from my self-inflicted mental storm that allowed that. And I realise that my life since has been a searching for a holy instant of that quiet.
“The voice of the Holy Spirit does not command, because it is incapable of arrogance. It does not demand, because it does not seek control. It does not overcome, because it does not attack. It merely reminds. It is compelling only because of what it reminds you of. It brings to your mind the other way, remaining quiet even in the midst of the turmoil you have made for yourself.” (From Text Chapter 5)
“Learn to be quiet in the midst of turmoil, for quietness is the end of strife, and this is the journey to peace.” (From Text Chapter 12)