It’s not everyday you happen to save someone’s life – a strangers life at that.
I am sure, at one point or another all of us have entertained the childhood fantasy of what it would be like to jump in the way of a car, Superman fashion, to push someone out of harm’s way, leaving a hand print on the bonnet.
In real life, however, it happens a little differently, a little slower and much less dramatically. And, most disappointingly, no Hans Zimmer soundtrack.
Let me set the scene:
7:30pm(ish). I had stayed an extra hour at work to finish off some stuff, a long day (you know how it is). Full of cold and feeling sorry for myself, I am greeted at the station by other, dull faced commuters desperate to squeeze onto the train from one stop to the next. The first leg of the journey goes quickly, sniffing and coughing (to the disgust of my fellow tube passengers). I wait. I get off and swap platforms.
It’s 7:45 and by now the bustling platform is somewhat quieter. The platform attendant is at the opposite end from where i am standing. This was the same attendant whom, 11 hours earlier, had irritated the shit out of me with his jabbering rush hour platform announcements.
However, this evening he was a different person. Walking towards me and the guy standing next to me, he hurried, shouting into his microphone, not over the speakers but to other station staff on the intercom.
What? I thought, looking at my neighbour. Equally puzzled we saw a man, a similar age to us, standing in the middle of the platform. A normal looking guy, jeans and a grey t-shirt, leaning against the wall with one hand, the other hand shaking by his side. All the colour had drained from his face and he was sweating. I thought perhaps he had just got off the previous train and wasn’t feeling well, as we see all too often in the morning. Apparently not. Me and the guy next to me started to walk towards the attendant and the shaking man. We both started to walk a bit quicker. How we knew to do this, or why we both did exactly the same, I’m not sure.
As the train broke out of the tunnel behind us, I could hear the crackle of the train line as the guy pushed himself away from the wall into a semi-sprint towards the oncoming train. (This is where it all slows down – in my head at least). The announcer starts to lunge forward, my neighbour and I run straight towards him and then all three of us grab this poor guy. He was half way to the edge and we pushed him back.
I guess the announcer was trained in this type of situation and pulled the guy to the floor, leaning on him. Me and my neighbour stand in a state of adrenaline-filled shock, looking at each other. The announcer and the, now visibly upset, guy both remain on the floor.
We stand near them as other station staff rush round the corner and help the guy in the grey shirt up onto the bench. I didn’t puff my chest out and lean against the wall, as I did when I was 6 in my superman costume at school. I just stood there, barely breathing. All of this took just a few minutes, but it felt like an hour. I was on the 221 bus back to my flat by 8:15pm so it couldn’t have been.
I sat next to the other guy who had helped on the tube, in silence, both of us lost for words. Not even a few words about how odd it is to have been sitting at my desk selling ad space one minute, and stopping a guy from taking his own life the next. No words came out. My neighbour got up. We shook hands. He got off the tube. That was that. I sat back in the seat and stared at the tube map all the way back to my stop.
Having lost an uncle to suicide and having personally suffered from depression as well as having to suffer the tube, i’m not going to lie – the odd thought about doing something similar has occasionally popped into mind, how it works, what actually happens, but i’m lucky because in an instant those dark moments are replaced by positive thoughts.
Now, there’s this guy, no older than myself, who wants to tap out, and not through the barriers.
Have I helped him? Saved his life? I guess i did, and i hope he’s still alive.
But, whatever he has gone through and is going through, I made a choice for him that day. Against what he wanted at that moment. Was that right? I’m certainly not saying we should have let him keep running, but this is a question that has haunted me ever since. Personally i think that when someone chooses, enough is enough, it’s not our choice to intervene but a responsibility. We need to look after each other, not turn a blind eye.
All it takes is a moment to look around, be aware of people and a decent pair of shoes, with just enough grip to enable you to sprint towards a stranger who needs your help.
So to that guy on the platform: I don’t know your name, but I hope you are ok and life gets better for you.
That goes out to everyone else too.
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