Updated: Mar 10
It was a simply perfect summer evening. While my husband and son were happily playing cricket out on the front lawn, I grabbed a recently written letter and jumped cheerfully into the car, heading into town toward the post office.
A few people were dotted at various points along the high-level bridge that led into the township. Carefully I entered onto its high narrow roadway, concentrating in case another car should begin to make the opposite journey towards me.
As I drove past these people, an idea came to me. The idea simply said "One of these people is planning to jump off the bridge". It was as if someone had said that. I didn't hear a 'voice'; just the 'idea'. And yet I heard it as clearly as if it had been spoken right next to me.
I felt torn. My first thought was that this was a pretty strange - not to say irrational - thing to be commenting on, apparently to myself.
I was most strongly inclined to dismiss it. But then I thought, if it was true, then the matter was of real concern and something should be done about it. Surely it was better to be safe than sorry? But do what...?
I began to drive really slowly as the end of the bridge drew closer, whilst a barrage of sceptical questions raced through my head. I was thinking how unreal this was. Who gets ideas like this randomly entering their heads, when they're merely driving on a beautiful evening, without a care in the world?
By this time I was driving extremely slowly, trying to buy more time before I had to leave the group on the bridge behind.
Just where the bridge ended, I pulled over to the side of the road for a few moments as I frantically sought some guidance. As all this played out in a kind of slow motion, I kept silently repeating the Greatest Name prayer in my head.
My third thought was that if it was all imaginary (as I naturally assumed it must be) then there would be no harm done if I just drove back past the group in the other direction and watched for any sign at all that this could possibly be real, but all the while I was really thinking to myself how unlikely the whole scenario was.
To be frank, I was feeling a bit ridiculous and embarrassed inside my own self as I drove back toward the group again. What crazy thing was I doing? What on earth did I expect to happen? And how would I even recognise if such a troubled person did exist?
By now I had slowed right down until the engine was barely still running. At this very point I noted that a young man had stepped out of his flip-flops to stand barefoot against the railing for no apparent purpose at all.
Acting on sheer impulse, I slowly drew up alongside him and began to lean across to open the passenger door and call out to ask if he was ok. My son in the back seat prepared to leave the car and talk with him.
To my HUGE surprise at that moment he swung around, saw us and just jumped straight into the car!
Frozen, I decided to act coolly as if this happened every day. But inwardly my mind was racing. What was I to do with this strange man - well, now I could see he was a youth really - in this strange situation?
For lack of any better idea, I began driving back towards my home, where I found the cricket still carrying on obliviously. Meekly, he followed me inside. As I offered him coffee, we exchanged names.
I'm going to call him Dennis - which is not his real name - and by now I had time to observe him more closely. I noted that he was Maori and covered in poorly executed tattoos on every visible part of his body. Encouraged by my listening ear, he began to explain that yes; he had definitely intended to jump off the bridge (being well aware that below was a very deep and fast-moving river which would have spelt his certain death).
He explained that the first time he had spoken of a desire to take his own life, his brother-in-law had taunted him that he was really too scared to actually do so. So today's action was both to end his life and at the same time teach to his brother-in-law a lesson; that despite the taunting he was not dying scared.
(Despite this bravado, I was aware that he had seemed only too keen to seize the slight opportunity to escape offered by my open car door.)
As he talked about having very recently left prison, maybe within days, I tried to move the conversation around to more spiritual matters. However, I could see that he was under the influence of a different type of spirit (!) and lacked any capacity for such conversation. Instead, I listened as he rambled, often incoherently, but I managed to establish that his large Maori family was from the area where I had recently lived.
I was beginning to imagine the growing consternation of my own family still out at the 'cricket pitch' who were now occasionally popping a head around the door to ensure all was well with this stranger who now monopolised my attention.
Eventually, realising that very little was being achieved in his confused state, I told him I would drop him off where ever he was staying. Imagine my surprise when he directed my car to the very house where I had delivered a new friend only a day or so earlier!
To give some context; as a member of the local Baha'i community, I had given a lift home from a meeting to a recently-arrived Baha'i from another area. The house that I delivered him to was this same one! The person I had delivered was the supposedly 'taunting' brother-in-law Harry (again, not his real name).
Harry turned up again on the following week, to bring his energetic group of children to one of the 3 mid-week Baha'i children's classes which I regularly hosted in my home.
I never saw nor heard of Dennis again, but over the years Harry and I worked together frequently on different projects. Shortly I had the pleasure of meeting his wife - the sister of Dennis. In fact she joined the Bahai community not long after, as did her sister, and we were together often through several years to come.
My last contact with Harry was when we online-chatted last year; by then he lived in Australia and had a full face moko (tatoo). Meantime, l sometimes wondered what happened to Dennis, and to the children I had enjoyed teaching and singing with so much. I feel sure we will all be together again one day.
Obviously this is just the account of one person's experience. However, it had a powerful effect on me. Much reflection and meditation followed, as I sought over time for some understanding of these events which I simply could not deny. Eventually I came across this helpful guidance from Abdu'l-Baha;
Every subject presented to a thoughtful audience must be supported by rational proofs and logical arguments. Proofs are of four kinds: first, through sense perception; second, through the reasoning faculty; third, from traditional or scriptural authority; fourth, through the medium of inspiration. That is to say, there are four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions. --- 89 – 16 Notes by Edna McKinney of a talk by Abdu'l-Baha, August 1912, at Green Acre, Eliot, Maine
And now it is you who must decide what, if any, value this personal account of mine may hold for you. As for me, I still think about Dennis often and send him loving thoughts, wherever he may be.