In our culture, when someone says or does something that causes a tense or awkward situation because of lack of thought, or sheer coincidence, we say that someone “stuck their foot in their mouth”. Today, I had one of those situations.
Most of the time, when these things happen to me, its because I say something offensive without first noticing my surroundings, such as making fun of someone for wearing blue jeans on the golf course when your grandfather is behind you and is wearing jeans as well. Take foot, insert into mouth.
Today, however, there is no possible way I could have avoided this awkward moment. I took Carrie, her brother, and mother, to the natchez trace bridge over highway 96. Its a gorgeous view. A large, arching bridge that suspends nearly 200 feet in the air. I’ve visited it several times, one time in particular to throw a couple pumpkins off of it. This past experience would lead to the awkwardness today.
Carrie and I stopped on the side of the road, about halfway on the bridge, when we were passed by a middle aged woman. I didn’t think it to be strange, however, looking back, typically middle aged women don’t drive out into the country to walk across tall bridges, but I wasn’t quite thinking about that at the time.
What I was thinking about was the pumpkins, and when Carrie stopped to wait on her mom and brother, I took off across the bridge, and quickly caught the woman walking in front of me. In my unceasing wisdom, I offered this tidbit of information. “I threw a pumpkin off this bridge once. It was awesome. ” To which she responded, with a deadpan expression, “I’m here cause a month ago my boss jumped off this bridge.” Total. Silence.
The only thing I could think to say was, “I’m sorry”. I’ve never been in a situation like that before, nor do I expect to ever be in it again, so I followed with, “do you want me to leave you alone?”
“No,” she replied. “I’d like some company”
She preceeded to tell me that he was driving over the bridge, where he stopped. Hopped out of his car, and jumped 200 feet to his death. I’m sorry was still the only thing I could think of to say, but I refrained, knowing how hollow those words can ring. I walked with her some more until Carrie and Johnathan came bounding up with large rocks in hand, prepared to throw them off the bridge. I shhhed them and communicated as silently as possible the predicament with which I was faced. We walked to the opposite side of the bridge and talked quietly. After she left, we threw the rocks off the bridge, and it was fun, but I couldn’t help thinking about the man who jumped, and the woman who was hurting, that probably felt more awkward because of my comments. I felt, and feel, bad about it, but there was no way of knowing. I just hope she gained some closure.
So next time you’re on a bridge that is a common place for people to end their lives, don’t talk about pumpkins. Actually, just don’t talk to anyone, unless you are positive they aren’t mourning a co-worker.