I wish I could tell you that this is another post about me unwinding on the Natchez Trace Parkway after a day at the office. It started out that way, but it ended with me writing a witness statement for the Williamson County Sherriff’s office and the National Park Ranger Service. You are probably beginning to figure out how this story ends, so I must add the disclaimer that this post might be disturbing to some.
It was another rainy day, but I was delighted to be greeted with some fog as I left work. Fog always brings unique photographic opportunities – all you need is an interesting subject. Well, I decided that my subject would be the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. It was rainy, foggy and chilly. I figure I would have the bridge to myself, and I was right.
I approached the bridge from the west side. I pulled over before crossing to snap a picture of the road vanishing into the thick fog. I’ve always loved this perspective. I have a medium format image of this perspective shot on black and white film hanging on my wall. That shot won me my first award in a gallery exhibit years ago. I took a few different shots and settled on the ‘normal’ perspective.
I walked out across the bridge a short distance to see if there was a shot to be had, but the fog was so thick. I could not see the ground or any horizons. I abandoned that idea and got back into my car and proceeded to drive across the bridge to get a shot from the overlook area. As I approached the parking area, I noticed a man walking out onto the bridge talking on his phone. I parked my car and headed over to the overlook area. As I was looking out at the bridge from the overlook, I could see the man standing and sometimes pacing back and forth on the bridge all while talking on his phone. I did not think much of it. I was thinking if he got in my frame, I would just remove him in Photoshop. After getting a few shots, I packed up my gear. As I was beginning to turn away from the bridge to walk back to my car, I heard a yell. I immediately turned back toward the bridge to see the man falling over the edge. I watched him fall to the point where I could not see him anymore. There was a couple of seconds of silence and then I heard the impact. It took me a moment to process what I had just seen and heard. I guess I was in a state of disbelief or shock. When I gathered myself, I called 911.
While talking to the 911 dispatch, I noticed a vehicle driving below the bridge over to the area where the man fell. Someone else must have seen him from the ground. Before I could get off the phone, a Williamson County Sherriff’s Deputy pulled into the parking area. I explained to the deputy what I saw. He asked that I give a written statement. He could see that I was unnerved and insisted that I go set down for a moment to compose myself.
While sitting there waiting for the deputy to bring me the form, a lady pulled up unaware of what just happened. She had stopped to throw away some trash in the receptacle. She ask how I was doing and I responded by telling her I’ve had better days. I then told her that I just saw someone jump from the bridge. A look of concern came over her face and she told me that her father killed himself. She asked if I needed a hug. I smiled and told her that I was ok. She insisted and gave me a hug anyway. As I was writing my statement, a park ranger and another deputy arrived. When I handed my statement to the deputy, he asked if I was going to be ok. He offered to have a Chaplain come to the bridge to talk to me. He and the ranger both told me that this is something that is going to stay with me and that they have people that I could reach out to if needed. They were really adamant about making sure I was going to be ok and that I had resources to help me down the road. I thanked the officers and headed home.
I’m well aware that this bridge is a suicide magnet, but I never thought I would actually witness someone jumping off the bridge. This is something you only hear about, right? Seeing this man falling, hearing the seconds of silence, and finally hearing the impact that abruptly ended this man’s life is etched in my head. I didn’t want to close my eyes when I went to bed because all I saw was him. I keep going through scenarios of how I could have stopped him, but I know that was not possible. What if I decided to walk the span of the bridge? Would I have been a deterrent? Maybe we would have started a conversation – a conversation that would had made him change his mind. What if? What if? What if? I know I shouldn’t beat myself up over this as it was out of my control, but I guess it’s only natural to speculate on how things may have been different.
It’s hard understanding how a soul could be in such despair that suicide is the only way out. It goes to show that you never know the state of mind of an individual. You have no idea of the problems someone may be facing. Even if that person puts on a smile and looks normal on the outside, that person may be dealing with some overwhelming issues on the inside that have put them in a dark place. That’s why it’s important to ALWAYS be kind to people. You just might be the light at the end of that dark tunnel. Here’s one more picture of the bridge.
I don’t know the exact number, but the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge has been the site for over 30 suicides. Believe it or not, there was one survivor, Briana Browne. You can read her story here. Did you know that 29 people survived their suicide attempt from the Golden Gate Bridge? What’s eye opening is that all 29 regretted it the moment they jumped. If this one message gets through to at least one person who’s contemplating suicide, it was worth writing this post. I hear there are some preventive measures in the works to make it harder or impossible to jump from the bridge. I don’t know what this looks like or when it will be implemented, but I’m sorry to say that until then, there will be more lost souls at the bottom of this bridge.
I will conclude by thanking the Williamson County Deputies and the National Park Service Ranger for looking after my well-being. They were a class act. We all know the difficult job of law enforcement, but you don’t think about circumstances like this. How do you deal with these types of incidents day after day without having a negative effect on your very being? I could not be a first responder. At any rate, I’m going to be just fine. It’s the poor soul that could not find its way out of the darkness that I pray for, along with his family and friends. I love the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge. It’s a beautiful structure in a beautiful area, but I’m going to stay away from that bridge for a while. I apologize for the solemn post. I had to write down my thoughts, and I wanted to get out the message of being kind to each other. A kind gesture, a compliment, a conversation, a smile or even a hug may be enough to brighten up a person’s day. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Follow and Like my Facebook page, Shuttering Thru Life to catch my next adventure.