(two people stand at the fence of The Gap)
A woman teeters on the edge of a cliff in Sydney, Australia. It’s called “The Gap.” A three-foot-fence is all that separates the jumper from death. Hopeless and helpless, she inches forward, than drops to the ground.
“You can’t just sit there and watch them,” Don sighs. “You gotta try and save them. It’s pretty simple.”
Some people think it’s grim, not Don. He used to sell life insurance, now he sells life. “It’s a gift,” he believes. Every day when he awakes, the elderly man shuffles to the second-story window, prays no one is at the cliff.
“He’s an angel,” beams Dianne Gaddin. “Most people would be too afraid to do anything, and would probably sooner turn away and run away. But he had the courage, and the charisma, and the care, and the magnetism to reach people who were coming to the end of their tether.”
Dianne likes to believe that Don was there when her daughter jumped from The Gap in 2005. He can’t remember, yet she feels comfort that Tracy felt his warmth at the end. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gap_%28Sydney%29
There was a time when Don climbed the fence to save a life. No more. He almost went over the cliff with a woman one day. She was hysterical, out of control; Don stood between her and the abyss below. Had she launched herself over the edge, he would have gone also.
Yet, he can’t save them all. The wind was strong on the day a teenager stood at the brink. As the old man offered tea and solace, the boy glanced up, it wasn’t enough. Just that quick he was gone. Don reached out, the boy’s hat landed in his open hand.
The “suicide angel” discovered the boy had lived next door years ago. His mother brought flowers to Don, grateful that he had tried. “If you couldn’t talk him out of it, no one could,” she sobbed.
There is no regret for those he can’t help, no lingering nightmares. Don does his best, accepts that no more can be done.
In 2006, the government awarded Don Ritchie with a Medal of the Order of Australia, a high civilian honor. It stands out on his living room wall, above a painting of sunshine; someone left it in the mailbox. The honor on the plaque reads: Ritchie “an angel that walks amongst us.”
Remember the woman at the start of this story? The ground beneath her body felt warm as she sat and gazed across the water; her purse was on the other side of the fence. Don convinced her to come to the house for tea; he and Moya dished up breakfast as they listened to her troubles.
The stranger was spent at the end of her tale, but felt much better. She decided to go home.
She returned a few months later with a bottle of champagne. Once a year she makes contact with the Ritchie’s to let them know that she is okay, happy with life.
Don Ritchie is a former Navy seaman, used to be busy, out and about, lunch with friends. His age and a constant battle with cancer have slowed him down.
The last I read, as of Feb. 2011 Don was still there reading … and watching.
May Your Glass Always Be Half Full