It is a beautiful day in Winnipeg this morning. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. The flowers are as beautiful as they can be before the frost finds them.
I was walking across the Osborne Street Bridge at about 7:30 a.m. and saw a woman standing on the wrong side of the railing, about half way across. At first I thought I must be seeing it wrong. A couple of people seemed to just walk past her. And then there was only me.
The woman’s back was to me. She was holding onto the railing with one hand, leaning and looking down into the swirling water. I walked faster until I was beside her, then came around and faced her, smiled, and leaned on the rail. I said “Hi” and just started to talk. She looked at me very quietly and just listened. I could tell from her eyes that she wasn’t sure whether to trust me; that she was really afraid. My body was close to her, but the rail was separating us. I didn’t touch her; just kept talking. Eventually she said in a really quiet voice that she was going to jump. That she just felt hopeless. I asked her how come she felt hopeless and she said that everything was going wrong and she didn’t know what to do anymore. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it with me, that maybe I could help. She said no-one could help. I smiled and shrugged and said well I could try; maybe we could have coffee? She looked down and said, “The river looks like it has a strong current”.
I said, “Yes and it is probably pretty cold too.” I asked her, “Please won’t you come for a cup of coffee with me? You could always jump tomorrow.” I asked her to just think about it one more day, and meanwhile have some coffee with me.
At that moment she decided that she could trust me and agreed to come over. Frankly there was a moment of fear that she might fall while she struggled over the railing. She gave me her bag to hold. There was tons of traffic zooming by and maybe even people walking; I don’t know. I was so intent I didn’t notice. But no one stopped. When she got over the rail I said, “Let’s go into the village for our coffee.” And so we started walking.
I told her my name and asked for hers and shook her hand, as if now we had been properly introduced. She said her name was Emma. She was 22 and used to live in a small town way up in Northern Manitoba. I remarked that she was a long way from home and asked about her family there. She said her mom was there, plus 11 aunties and 2 uncles and 2 brothers. I said well aren’t you lucky to have such a big family! And she smiled and that was the first smile. She was short and chubby with a round face that looked lovely when she smiled. We walked some more and I told her that I had a daughter about her age that I loved very much.
I had no idea what on earth I was going to do when I got to having coffee with her. All the while we were walking, I was smiling and talking with her but I was thinking, “What can I do?” I just decided to take it one step at a time. When we got across the bridge to the gas station suddenly a police car pulled across our path and two cops got out. I wasn’t really sure if they were there to help us or if there had been a robbery at the gas station or something. I didn’t know if they knew that that this young woman needed help or anything at all. I felt protective, like I didn’t really want to leave her with these men. But they immediately separated us and checked her for weapons. I was pulled aside to give a statement to one of the officers.
By the time I turned around there were 4 cop cars and 7 police officers all standing around talking. Emma was alone in the back of one of the cop cars. It was explained to me that they were going to take her to the Health Sciences Center psychiatric unit. I said, “She’s not crazy, just lonely”. And they looked at me like, “What do you know?”
A man came up and said, “You did a good job” and I asked “Who are you?” Apparently, he had been driving across the bridge and had seen me talking Emma off the ledge, so he called 911. Then it made sense to me – all the police cars. The police said I was free to go and I asked, “Can I at least say goodbye to her?” They just shrugged. I went over and looked through the barred window of the cop car and smiled at her and blew her a kiss. She looked like she was still alone; surrounded by all these people in uniform, but very alone.
Go and hug someone you love. Let them know that the world is good and there is plenty of love for everyone.
Jennifer A. Cooper, Q.C.
Jennifer is a family lawyer with a full practice in Winnipeg and a new part-time practice in Victoria. She is a Board member with CBIA – the Canadian Bar Insurance Association – and is the CBIA representative to LPAC – the Legal Profession Assistance Conference.