(Do not) Jump (off) from the Bridge

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We drink
We dry up
Then we crumble to dust

(Stuck between stations, The Hold Steady)

Washington Avenue Bridge Minneapolis
Washington Avenue Bridge Minneapolis

I like bridges.

I guess many people like bridges.

But people like bridges for different reasons.

Peter Stackpole; Oakland Bay Bridge
Peter Stackpole; Oakland Bay Bridge

I like bridges for aesthetic reasons.

I like the shapes, the arches, the materials.

Let me offer the example of Oakland’s Bay Bridge. 

Peter Stackpole; Oakland Bay Bridge
Peter Stackpole; Oakland Bay Bridge

“It took three years to build, cost more than $77m and 28 workmen lost their lives during its construction, but when it was finally completed in 1936, three years after work first began, Oakland Bay Bridge was the largest in the world, spanning some 7,180metres making it nearly 4.5 miles long. And these spectacular pictures charting the dramatic rise of the monolithic construction have gone on display for what is believed to be the first time since they were taken all those years ago. The images were were captured by a plucky young wannabe photographer who went by the name of Peter Stackpole.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2375145/Young-photographer-Peter-Stackpole-body-Bay-Bridge-work.html#ixzz2rKxlExg6

Peter Stackpole; Oakland Bay Bridge
Peter Stackpole; Oakland Bay Bridge

Other people like bridges for utilitarian reasons.

The Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River in Oregon, USA
The Interstate 5 Bridge over the Columbia River in Oregon, USA

Bridges are practical.

They span two sides, so you can get across easily.

Other people see other utilities in bridges.

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One of them is jumping (off) from them.

As is the case with so many other human acts, there may be thousands, if not millions of reasons for jumping off a bridge.

(It might be better to talk instead of the intention behind the act.)

Serpentine River, London
Serpentine Lake, London

One such intention might be suicide.

If this is the intention, the actor (or agent as is the term in social sciences, or the patient as is the term in medicine and psychoanalysis) has to be careful to avoid running into a sign like the one in Serpentine in London: “Shallow Water. Do not jump from Bridge.”

When you are ready to do something that is difficult and requires extreme concentration and focus on the task, there is nothing worse than running into a warning sign that potentially puts you off.

In this way, the sign protects the innocent passers by, but also the aspiring suicidal ones. Ambivalence par excellence.

The sign does nothing for the accidental jumpers. Accidents do happen.

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The cyclist who jumped off this bridge in the Seine did not read any signs, regardless of whether there were any.

I doubt whether his intention was suicide, it looks more like an extreme sports type of act, an attempt to tame fear and the elements, to pump adrenaline, to glorify the fearless actor, agent, patient.

Such an attempt may result in very unfortunate events for the jumper, but this is another story.

When you face glory and personal gratification to the extreme, consequences, or even the thought of them fades away.

Quezon Bridge Manila, Photo by Tunog Kanto
Quezon Bridge Manila, Photo by Tunog Kanto

What is critical is what the jumper has is in his or her mind when planning and carrying out the act.

The boy jumping off Quezon Bridge in Manila, photographed beautifuly by Tunog Kanto, looks like a determined winner, no matter what.

“It is all a mind game” as the old advert went.

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What a contrast to the previous picture of the man, winning!

A Reuters photo shows rescuers attempting to stop a man from committing suicide on a bridge in Wuhan, Hubei province, October 8, 2012. The man was rescued after he climbed onto the top of a bridge, attempting to jump off, over the Yangtze River and threatened his own life if his economic dispute could not be resolved.

Unfortunately this is not an uncommon incident.

In many countries, if not in all countries.

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“A woman is rescued from the Roaring Brook bridge by Scranton(Pennsylvania) emergency crews after she jumped off the bridge on the corner of Mattes Avenue and Cedar Avenue in South Scranton. Butch Comegys.”

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“The Scene At The Brooklyn Bridge This Morning, Where A Young Man Jumped To His Death”

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Some of the suicidal jumpers are rescued, some die.

The same may be the case with the “extreme sports” events.

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But the difference between the two cases could not have been any bigger.

The suicidal agent is immersed in the darkness of the upcoming finality of the act.

Whereas the glorious adventurous jumper is surrounded by Gods, albeit for a very short period of time.

Neither of the two will find the time to read the sign an the details of the City Order prohibiting the act of jumping.

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But it does not matter.

The people putting up signs continue doing their jobs, no matter what.

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Some do it in way that might be helpful to the suicidal agents.

“Sign on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge – there is a phone below the sign that connects you to crisis counseling.” Photo taken by Jeremy Brann from USA.

But the Golden Gate Bridge in a magical way attracts suicides and has the world record of jumpers.

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John Bateson wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

“One reason the bridge has so many suicides is its magnetic appeal. Suicide sites tend to draw despairing people to them, and the numbers show that the Golden Gate Bridge exerts a stronger pull than anywhere else. Another reason may be the mistaken belief that jumping from the bridge results in a quick, near-certain death with no messy clean-up. In fact, 5% of jumpers survive the impact and subsequently drown, their bodies retrieved by Coast Guard crews. A handful survive — miraculously — but they usually suffer permanent physical injuries. A third reason is because access is easy. There are parking lots at both ends of the bridge and year-round walkways for pedestrians and bicyclists. One doesn’t need to procure a firearm, stockpile drugs or learn how to tie a noose. One just needs to go to the bridge and jump. The most important reason, though, is because the existing railing is only 4 feet high. Anyone can climb over it, from a 5-year-old girl — the bridge’s youngest official suicide — to people in their 80s.”

Early morning fog at the Golden Gate Bridge
Early morning fog at the Golden Gate Bridge

“The rail is so low, a 7-year-old can climb over it.” -Eric Steel.

“Inspired by a New Yorker story, Jumpers, written by Tad Friend, director Eric Steel decided to train cameras on the Golden Gate Bridge over the course of 2004 to capture the people who attempted to leap off the famed structure, the site of more suicides than anywhere else in the world. He also tracked down and interviewed the friends, family members, and eyewitnesses to further recreate the events leading up to the incident and to try to explain what led these people to want to kill themselves, especially at this specific site. The documentary’s primary subjects all struggled with mental illness, including severe depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders, and the documentary struggles to understand their illness while illuminating the anger and hurt of their loved ones.” Top Documentary Films

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Sign on Seattle’s George Washington Memorial Bridge

From Seattle’s Washington Memorial Bridge I travel to Minneapolis.

As a student in this beautiful city, I used to cross the Washington Avenue Bridge every day to get from the west bank of the river to the east, where part of the university campus is.

Minneapolis, Washington Avenue Bridge 1885
Minneapolis, Washington Avenue Bridge 1885

On the morning of 7 January 1972, poet John Berryman jumped off the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis and killed himself.

Nick Cave in his song “We call upon the author (to explain)” refers to Berryman:

Bukowski was a jerk!
Berryman was best!
He wrote like wet papier-maché
But he went the Hemingway
Weirdly on wings and with maximum pain
We call upon the author to explain

Berryman never explained his suicide jump.

The Hold Steady in their song “Stuck between stations” pay hommage to John Berryman.

The devil and John Berryman
Took a walk together.
They ended up on Washington
Talking to the river.
He said “I’ve surrounded myself with doctors
And deep thinkers.
But big heads with soft bodies
Make for lousy lovers.”
There was that night that we thought John Berryman could fly.
But he didn’t
So he died.
She said “You’re pretty good with words
But words won’t save your life.”
And they didn’t.
So he died.

He was drunk and exhausted but he was critically acclaimed and respected.
He loved the Golden Gophers but he hated all the drawn out winters.
He likes the warm feeling but he’s tired of all the dehydration
Most nights were kind of fuzzy
But that last night he had total retention.

These Twin Cities kisses
Sound like clicks and hisses.
We all tumbled down and
Drowned in the Mississippi River.

We drink
We dry up
Then we crumble to dust