I want to share a song with you that I have really liked ever since first hearing it six weeks ago on The Bob Edwards Show. Edwards was interviewing Boston musician-poet (and former subway busker) Meg Hutchinson about her song “Gatekeeper.” It’s inspired by a man named Kevin Briggs, whom Hutchinson had read about in a 2003 New Yorker article called “Jumpers: the Fatal Grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge” (cf. The Bridge). The full interview is available for downloading, but here’s the transcript of the relevant portion:
So, I’ve never met Kevin. I read a New Yorker article maybe five years ago about suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. And he was featured in the article — he’s been a patrolman there for many years; I don’t know if he still works on the Golden Gate bridge. But it was his job to ride up and down and look for jumpers, and figure out who was at risk and have a conversation that would save them. I thought, you know, he must do something very dramatic in order to keep people from jumping at that moment when there’s nothing left for them. And I was so struck in the article by the fact that he very humbly said, “I just ask them two questions. I ask them, ‘how are you feeling,’ and ‘what are your plans for tomorrow?'” And that seems so bold, because we know the answer — we know that people are standing there with no plan, and feeling terrible, or not feeling at all. Maybe so low that they’re not even feeling. But it seemed to me that if he’s willing to ask that ordinary question, rather than high emotion — which might frighten people even more — to just approach them like it’s a normal day… that that’s the thing that saves people. And in 200 interventions he had never lost anyone.
So I called the song “Gatekeeper” and I think of him as this gatekeeper to this other world, you know, where we might have lost many people. So I would really like to meet this man. I don’t know how to find him, but if anyone does, I would love to meet him. I was very struck by the work he does.
And I think every seventeen minutes someone in this country kills themselves. And if anything else, we’re destroying people of that demographic especially — affluent, educated people — if anything else was taking them down, there would be such alarm. That would be headline news. I mean, we even think about the death toll from the Swine Flu, and how much fuss there’s been about that. Now, you know, the numbers are very similar. And how can we not still talk about that? Or if we talk about it, why is it such an abstract concept still to us? And military deaths… we talk about casualties from the actual war, but the casualties when soldiers come home are devastating, and that’s still something that we shy away from. So to think of this man who’s doing this work, even in this very small way in his life, that story is something that I think about often and think, how can we do more of that? How can we all be gatekeepers even in the way that we ask questions of each other and can we not be so busy.
Meg Hutchinson – “Gatekeeper” – from The Living Side (2010)[audio:http://kevers.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Meg-Hutchinson-Gatekeeper.mp3]