Many times have I stopped my bike to peer down into the vast waters. The bridge affords an unimpeded view of sea lions cavorting far below, or container ships passing swiftly through the Golden Gate, or small craft battling current and wind in their search for fish or a good view. To the west an unlimited horizon of sea and sky meets my gaze, and I’ve often marveled how the waters beckon a troubled heart. I can certainly understand how one filled with troubles could cast themselves into that immense space to be swallowed up in beauty. The suicide net will extend about 25 feet out, blocking our view straight down. Maybe that will dissuade potential jumpers, but it will also eliminate the stunning view right below into the Bay.
Eyeing the construction project, my cycling partner observed: how ironic that California decided to spend $200 million on suicide prevention in the same year it legalized suicide. How illogical, actually. Is suicide a good thing or a bad thing? Have we declared it a human right or is it still a crime? I blame our current confusion on poor education. For at least three generations Americans have not received the basic tools of learning, which by the way we are restoring to my parish school this autumn. “Grammar schools” used to be called that because they started first graders studying how language works. Grammar, logic, and rhetoric, the “trivium,” are the classic “three ways” of learning. Most Americans can scarcely discourse rationally on any subject because we lack the basic tools of critical thinking. Because we have lost the ability to think for ourselves, the powerful rule us by appealing to emotion (mostly our fears) and passion (mostly our lusts).
$220 million to save forty lives a year is not unreasonable, but if we ordered our lives together better we would not need to build nets around our public monuments. It would be far better, far less expensive, and far more beautiful to spend our energies building a culture that encourages life rather than death. If every movie has to glamorize violent death, and death is the solution to unexpected pregnancies, and death by one’s own hand is celebrated (as media elites did with Brittany Maynard), then why build suicide nets? If we are in love with death, we will find other ways to kill ourselves.
There is a better way. You don’t have to believe in Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life to see in His beatitudes a solution to life’s problems. The solution is never death, but deeper life. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom. Blessed are those who weep, for they shall laugh.” Every jumper that survives says that suicide is a mistake. There is far more good in life than bad. Maybe the suicide net will give people a second chance. But it would be far better to help people before they reach that level of despair.