I used to love to sit on my porch swing when I owned a house in Jacksonville, Florida. I could look out on the park across the street and take in a game of softball or lacrosse, or watch people come and go from the public library. I especially enjoyed seeing the various neighborhood dogs as they walked their humans. For such a big city, my neighborhood had a rather bucolic vibe.
One day I was drinking lemonade and lazily swinging back and forth, trying to kick up enough of a breeze to beat the stifling humidity, when this woman came down the sidewalk looking so shell-shocked that I had to ask her if she was okay. She looked at me for a second, and then pointed over her shoulder and said, “A guy… he just hung himself from a tree.” And then she walked away.
Wait. What??? I immediately jumped up. I remember hearing the porch swing chains clank. (It’s funny what you remember at times like those.)
And sure enough, when I looked down the street, about a dozen police cars were descending on a house about a block away. They had to cut his body down. I was never able to pass that tree again without thinking about it.
I didn’t know the guy. That house was a rental, and no one ever seemed to stay very long. But I kind of felt as though we had let each other down.
Clearly, someone within hollering distance of me had been in deep despair. Obviously, he wanted help or he wouldn’t have chosen to hang himself in his front yard across the street from a public library. I wish I had known.
If you need help, you have to ask for it. That was his responsibility. Mine was to keep my eyes open and my heart open to being a force for good. You speak. I listen. It takes two.
I wish he had spoken up. I don’t know what I could have done. I don’t pretend to be anyone’s savior. But maybe he could have sat with me on my porch swing. We could have talked about inconsequential things. Maybe that tiny bit of routine could have made just enough of a difference. Maybe I could have told him about the sliding-scale mental health clinic within walking distance. We’ll never know, now.
I’m not saying what happened was my fault. But it still makes me sad to think I was relaxing on my swing and sipping lemonade while he was throwing a noose over a tree branch less than a hundred yards from me. What a tragedy. What a waste.