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Step Back from the Railing MAG
It was a hot day. The sun beat down on my black shirt with an uncomfortable intensity as I walked over polluted waters on the uneven pavement of the massive bridge. My friends chatted aimlessly, and my mind began to wander as my thoughts blurred in the heat.
Absently fussing with my increasingly frizzy hair, I noticed two men loitering on the bridge. As we drew near and then began to pass them, I looked closely at the odd pair. Both were shirtless, overweight, and decorated with tattoos and a distinctly unwashed look. My friends seemed uneasy and began to speed up to get past the men. But I slowed with interest. One of them was approaching the railing, and I realized the other was urging him on.
I glanced back and saw the man swing his leg over the railing. My legs locked and I called to my friends. We stared at each other with wide eyes, at a total loss for what to do.
The man was now on the other side of the railing, one slip away from falling into the murky waters of the Ohio River. A thought entered my mind with alarming clarity: You will not be able to live with yourself if you watch this man jump to his death without trying to stop him. My legs moved of their own accord. Even before I'd consciously decided to do anything, I was running toward this stranger.
Without thinking, I exclaimed, “Hi there!” in an absurdly peppy voice driven up an octave by stress.
The man turned his head, his face stretching into a lazy smile. “Hello there.”
“What are you doing over there, may I ask?” I inquired, trying to conceal my panic.
He was calm as he smiled, sensing my concern. “It's a hot day, you see? I figured I'd go for a swim and cool off. I'm a professional swimmer, see ….”
I studied this man as he rambled on about diving technique and weather conditions. It was clear that he was somewhat delusional, perhaps dehydrated from baking in the sun.
My mind scrambled for a millisecond before I knew what to do. Calmly I said, “That's all very nice, sir. The thing is, it's my best friend's birthday. See her down there?” I pointed to one of my friends, who had stopped a runner on the bridge and was calling 911 for help. “As a gift to her, I was hoping you'd come back over to our side of the railing. I know she'd love it if you'd wish her a happy birthday.”
He paused, studying me. I flashed a smile, hoping I could win him over with my manners.
“I don't see why not,” he drawled, and hopped back over the railing. Relief raged through my body, lifting my heart as well as my feet as I nearly skipped over to my friend, the birthday girl.
The men were friendly enough, despite their forbidding appearance and nonsensical rambling. My friends were thrilled, elated with the thought of saving a life.
That day was as frightening as it was exhilarating. I came face-to-face with evidence of the preciousness of human life, as well as the importance of looking after your neighbor, whether white or black, man or woman, rational or delusional.