I’ve never seen a jumper up close. Suicide where someone leaps off a tall building is always what you see in movies and usually a hero comes and talks the jumper out of leaping to their death.
However, after I had finished my sandwich in a snack bar on Rua Augusta in São Paulo this evening I stepped outside and saw cops all around the street. It was not clear what was going on, but then I saw two fire trucks arriving and I looked up and saw a young woman standing on the edge of the building.
She was not ridiculously high up – maybe just 4 floors above the ground – but even so I guess a 20 metre fall can go either way. She just stood there right on the edge of the building with no shoes on, just her bare feet inching slowly over the edge.
I started watching the spectacle because I wanted to see how the police would handle it. The cops in São Paulo are not known for their subtlety so I just wanted to see if they could talk her out of jumping.
One police negotiator was on the edge of the building close to her. He kept approaching with a phone. I guess he was encouraging her to speak to a friend or family member. From the way the phone kept lighting up, I guess he kept on trying to get a number from her.
But what was important was that this guy kept her focused on the safe zone. He never let her look back or look down, she was always looking at him or the phone with her back to the edge. While she was focused on him, two firemen raised a platform behind her and one suddenly grabbed her and pulled her into the safety of the platform.
She was kicking and screaming, but she had two big firemen pressing her down until they could lower the platform to the road. She was saved, for today.
I carried on watching because I wanted to see how the fire and police service handled this emergency and they did a good job. They diverted her attention enough to be able to get a platform behind her so she could be carried to safety, but as I walked away from this unusual street theatre I was left pondering a few thoughts.
Why would hundreds of people rush to take her photograph as she was released on the ground? Nobody on the street knows her story and why she felt that suicide was the only option. Why take her photo? Do people really want to get a portrait of an “almost-suicide” for their Instagram page that desperately?
She was so young. Perhaps 21 or 22 and pretty – not that beauty matters essentially, but it contrasts starkly with such a grim situation. What could have gone so disastrously wrong in her life by this age to cause her to want to just end everything? Perhaps if she can recover now and enjoy another 60 years of life with a family she might one day remember when two firemen made it all possible?
It’s disturbing to watch someone on the edge of taking their own life. For around 20 minutes I stood there wondering if the police could save her. When a second negotiator moved in and scared her I thought it was all over, but in the end both the police and fire service did a good job. They understood how to distract her and saved her life.
I walked home and still felt disturbed. Sometimes we all forget just how close we all are to not existing. When I read about the death of Jim Carrey’s girlfriend, Cathriona White, in the news today it was made even stranger by the fact that her Instagram and Twitter were all updated almost until the moment of her death. The actual switch from life to death takes place in an instant and to look at social networks anyone might believe a person is still here.
I’m glad that the cops saved that woman tonight, but saddened that in our modern smartphone culture a suicide is just seen as entertainment. And the taxi driver who got upset about the road diversion when I told him it was because of a suicide needs to learn about empathy for other people – I wouldn’t want to be his partner!