Earlier this year, I heard this story that I related to suicide. The story was given with a different goal in mind, but I could not help but connect it with my own feelings of falling mentally and emotionally.
Here is the story:
“Without safety ropes, harnesses, or climbing gear of any kind, two brothers—Jimmy, age 14, and John, age 19 (though those aren’t their real names)—attempted to scale a sheer canyon wall in Snow Canyon State Park in southern Utah. Near the top of their laborious climb, they discovered that a protruding ledge denied them their final few feet of ascent. They could not get over it, but neither could they now retreat from it. They were stranded. After careful maneuvering, John found enough footing to boost his younger brother to safety on top of the ledge. But there was no way to lift himself. The more he strained to find finger or foot leverage, the more his muscles began to cramp. Panic started to sweep over him, and he began to fear for his life.
Unable to hold on much longer, John decided his only option was to try to jump vertically in an effort to grab the top of the overhanging ledge. If successful, he might, by his considerable arm strength, pull himself to safety. In his own words, he said: ‘Prior to my jump I told Jimmy to go search for a tree branch strong enough to extend down to me, although I knew there was nothing of the kind on this rocky summit. It was only a desperate ruse. If my jump failed,the least I could do was make certain my little brother did not see me falling to my death.
‘Giving him enough time to be out of sight, I said my last prayer—that I wanted my family to know I loved them and that Jimmy could make it home safely on his own—then I leapt. There was enough adrenaline in my spring that the jump extended my arms above the ledge almost to my elbows. But as I slapped my hands down on the surface, I felt nothing but loose sand on flat stone. I can still remember the gritty sensation of hanging there with nothing to hold on to—no lip, no ridge, nothing to grab or grasp. I felt my fingers begin to recede slowly over the sandy surface. I knew my life was over.
‘But then suddenly, like a lightning strike in a summer storm, two hands shot out from somewhere above the edge of the cliff, grabbing my wrists with a strength and determination that belied their size. My faithful little brother had not gone looking for any fictitious tree branch. Guessing exactly what I was planning to do, he had never moved an inch. He had simply waited—silently, almost breathlessly—knowing full well I would be foolish enough to try to make that jump. When I did,he grabbed me, held me, and refused to let me fall.Those strong brotherly arms saved my life that day as I dangled helplessly above what would surely have been certain death.’”¹
As I listened to this story, I put myself in John’s place. How many times have I felt like I was hanging on for dear life with no way to reach safety? Depression is very real. I can’t emphasize enough how true that statement is. I can’t tell you how many times I have been on the edge of a metaphorical cliff and felt my fingers slip when there was nothing to grasp. I can’t tell you how I grateful I am for the people who have not fallen for my desperate ruse to save them from seeing me fall.
I have found myself on cliffs too steep for me many times. I have frantically searched for a way out of my situation only to feel my mind sinking deeper in despair and hopelessness. I have gotten others to safety, not knowing if the same thing was possible for me. I have told others to leave, trying to convince them that I will be okay or that I did not matter. I have put on a smile or downplayed my distress as my own desperate ruse so that someone else would not have to see me fall. And I have jumped many times in an attempt to save myself, only to slip towards my death. Sometimes it was the hands of others that caught me in those desperate moments. Sometimes it was an unexplained miracle that stopped my fall. But whatever it was that saved me, I still remember that desperate moment of grasping with nothing to hold on to.
If you don’t understand suicide or what it’s like to think about suicide, I just want you to understand how real it is. I want you to understand that it’s not a decision to die, it’s an attempt to save yourself. And if you don’t notice the signs or don’t see the indications, it’s because that is our desperate ruse to save you from seeing us fall.