I saw them the other day.
They looked like all the other ones I've seen before, and they still break my heart.
I didn't see them the day before on my ride home from work, but there they were. Fresh flowers. Teddy bears. Bright red ribbons flowing in the wind. All attached to bridge railing posts. Markers of where someone stood and stared at the traffic below, taking in their last few breaths. Perhaps knowing that it would end soon.
I feel the need to stop whenever I find ad hoc memorial sites. Whether if it's on a run, or a bike ride, or a stroll through the park, I will stop. And look. I don't touch anything. I look over the railing, and wonder if they felt anything. Was it better than what was shredding them up inside? Did they tear up, perhaps tapping into that small part of them which knew there was perhaps another way out? Or was it too late - had they numbed out long enough it was a matter of follow through and physics at that point?
I don't think of these things in a morbid way. I think about them because I know I was in a very dark place many times in my own life. I know that feeling of wanting to shut it down permanently. I understand that need to not be in pain any more. I had felt it many times in my life. It was strongest when I got sober, when I felt that I couldn't live with the drink nor could I live without it. I figured it would be best not to live then. It was too hard.
What I understand now is that it wasn't so much that I wanted to die, but it's that I just didn't want to live. And that's a considerable difference. Numbing myself with alcohol to the point of oblivion was the closest to dying I could do regularly. I killed my spirit with more spirit. I drowned my emotions until they choked out. I bled my soul out so that I could maybe make it through the day. I crushed myself under the weight of my own twisted wreckage. Offing myself one ounce at a time was a suicide-by-installment plan which seemed to suit me like a tight coffin.
Moving through the struggle of both wanting to die and wanting to live was one of the toughest times in my journey. I had no choice but to make a massive shift in my thinking and perceptions of myself and the world. If I wanted to stick around, I had to pitch the idea of easy outs, like booze and suicide, and get down to the brass tacks of cleaning house and facing my fears. There were many times I raged against myself, others, God. But I kept at it, because I knew that my life needed to be more than just a stain to be scraped off the street. Sandblasted and sanitized from the earth.
The ironic thing about the journey is reflected in the Prayer of St. Francis - "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life". In order for me to live, to break out of my death spiral, I needed to die many times. I needed my ego to break and crumble and fall to the ground. I needed to let go of all the things which were suffocating me. I needed to lay to waste the spiritual toxins clogging me up. Killing the old self off was what I needed to break through and start anew. The plunge always comes from within and cascades outwards.
When I look back at the greatest jumps in my growth, they came on the heels of the dying embers of flames which once threatened to consume me. They came from gathering everything within and moving through the darkness. It was never easy, but the outcome always brought me closer to the Creator, to my Authentic Self. I felt renewed and rejuvenated. I never liked the pain, but I know that I am usually better off having gone through it.
So as I look at the makeshift commemoratives wrapped around steel poles, I wonder how that person would have been today if they had stepped back; if they allowed themselves to walk through the darkness rather than making the final sacrifice. I wonder what wisdom would have welled up from their pain. I wonder what scars they would show.
In the end, the most painful and yet rewarding and liberating leap is that of faith. As long as I keep hold of that faith, I know that I can soar.
(The next day I rode past the place where the flowers and teddy bears and bright red ribbons flowed the night before. And everything was gone.)