The commuter train traveled the usual route on schedule October 18th, until the young man with the devastating smile decided to step in front of it. The whirring of helicopters overhead usually tips us off that it’s happened again. Another person chose to end their life by stepping into the path of an oncoming train. But, this time, this young man grew up in Wheaton and graduated from the same high school class as our oldest son. Why did he do it?
A week later a memorial continues to grow at the busy intersection. I walked our dog past it yesterday afternoon and took time to study the notes scrawled on the fence in silver and gold Sharpie ink. What can someone say or do in response to such a choice? He had a beautiful girlfriend, a loving family and a three year old son. Laying a bunch of grocery store roses or a CD of his favorite music is a kind gesture, but we all know it’s too late to make a difference.
“Research by Northwestern University professor Ian Savage found that 47 percent of railroad-pedestrian fatalities in the Chicago area were apparent suicides, versus 30 percent nationally. One reason, Savage explained, is simply because the Chicago area has a greater prevalence of tracks and trains. The city is the largest rail hub in North America and is served by all six of the major Class I freight railroads, as well as by Amtrak passenger trains and Metra, one of the nation’s busiest commuter rail networks.” (Chicago Transportation Journal, 2016)
Our home is two blocks from the train tracks so we are painfully aware of this problem. Metra recently launched a suicide prevention effort in keeping with those of other rail dependent cities. Suicide hotlines are posted at stations and personnel are trained in what to look for and what to do if someone is spotted exhibiting the about to jump signs. But this wasn’t enough to save the 25 year old father of the three year old boy.
Last night, I grabbed a scented candle and drove to the sight to light it and say a prayer for his family. As my husband and I climbed out of the car a woman wrapped in a fleece blanket, face streaked with tears asked us, “Did you know him?” We explained that our son did. She said she was “his girlfriend and the mother of his child” and “was hoping someone would come.” This simple statement tells so much. “Hoping someone would come.” I asked why he did it and she said, “depression and drugs. He wanted help and and tried to get it, but it was hard for him to accept it.” We wrapped our arms around this broken-hearted woman and prayed for her, staring into the frosty blackness illuminated by ground level candlelight. She told us that the Sharpie markers were given to her by the Metra train conductor who encouraged her to make them available so people could write messages. She tried to take their little son to the memorial site, but he didn’t understand.
Waking up in America these days can feel overwhelming to anyone. All the drugs, the political vitriol, the hate bombs, synagogue and school assault rifle slaughters. But the answer is still the same. Be reckless in loving someone today. Stand with them. Make yourself available. Pray and hope, always hope that our little efforts will be multiplied by Him who is “able to do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or imagine.” Ephesians 3:20
There is always hope.