Staying Alive

by vpundir | October 10th, 2007

Every night, almost without fail, I go out for a walk by the river, sometime between midnight and 3am.

Normally I walk down to the Albert Bridge, passing the Chelsea Bridge on the way. Occasionally I walk in the opposite direction, and walking the same distance takes me to Westminster. I prefer my regular route, though, as it is more peaceful.

The weekends are usually slightly different from the weekdays. For one, the decorative lights on the bridges become somewhat unpredictable. But more importantly, and amusingly, on weekends there is a good chance that I would run into a drunken lad who’s been “walking in the wrong direction for 2 hours”. Of course, I am usually the only person they see at the ungodly hour, and of course they have to ask me for directions and then walk with me till the Vauxhall Bridge (from where I turn left) to feel a little safer.

Yesterday, however, was one peculiar experience, though not a weekend. On my way back from the Albert Bridge, I stopped and sat down on a column of the embankment. I sat there engrossed deep in thought, or completely devoid of all thought, I can’t be sure, for who knows how long before these three people approached me.

Theek ho? (Are you okay?)”, asked this Punjabi bloke.

Haan (Yes)”, I woke up from my stupor.

“You are thinking to die in the water?”

“What? This is the most absurd thing I’ve heard in a long time,” I thought, but presently said only, “No, no.”

Even as I was finishing my really short sentence, the Englishman asked, “Waitin’ four yo gérlfrnd? Had a faaeet with yo gérlfrnd?”

“Oh, you arre such a good looking laad, you know thaaa?” chimed in the Welsh girl, “Here, take my hand, come down.”

I followed that instruction since, almost on cue, it suddenly started to rain, and I had no intention of getting soaked in the chilly weather. I politely explained to my well-wishers that I just liked sitting there and relaxing.

While at the time I found the whole episode absurdly hilarious, as I walked home, it set me thinking, and I started to appreciate what the trio did.

I still don’t know whether it was my “deep in thought” expression or my blank expression, or simply my sitting on the embankment that drew them to ask me those questions, but the point is that anyone of us could run into a situation where we might think that a stranger might be about to commit suicide or otherwise harm themselves, or otherwise are upset.

There are two types of errors one could make in such a situation: Error I – One does nothing (the typical Londoner’s response) and the assessment turns out to be right, or Error II – One intervenes and the assessment turns out as being wrong.

The cost of Error II is invading someone’s privacy for no apparent rhyme or reason, and risking being ridiculed. The cost of Error I could be as high as someone dying. While on the surface, the cost of Error II is personally slighter, I can not even begin to imagine how one could live on, dragging the weight of, “If I had just talked to that person for a bit, he might still be alive.”

When one considers that London’s multi-cultural society is comprised, to a large extent, of immigrants (international AND national), many of whom are away from friends & family and may not have well-developed social networks or safety nets, it becomes easier to understand how powerful a small idle chat, a kind word or a small act of kindness or thoughtfulness could be.

So the next time I suspect someone might be contemplating suicide, I WILL intervene, at the risk of personal ridicule. Of course, I’ll try to be slightly more tactful than my three “rescuers”.

Comments are closed.

About This Site

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Aenean commodo ligula eget dolor. Aenean massa.