San Francisco’s ‘Golden Gate Bridge’ is one of America’s most famous landmarks.
Hailed as one of the top ten construction achievements of the twentieth century, it stretches for almost 3,000 metres above the strong currents of San Francisco bay. The bridge provides wonderful views. On one side, are the houses perched on San Francisco’s hills, and the island of Alcatraz, the notorious former prison which housed some of the nation’s most desperate criminals.
On the other side stretch the waters of the Pacific Ocean
The bridge enjoys one unenviable accolade; it is America’s premier location for suicides. it is estimated that over 1,300 people have tragically succeeded in ending their lives from that vantage-point. The strong currents, which rendered escape from Alcatraz almost impossible, mean that bodies are carried remorselessly out to sea, never to be found.
One man whose body was found provided a clue to his predicament. Police were able to identify him, and establish where he had been living.
At that place, they found a note he had left behind. In the note, he said that he was going to the Golden Gate bridge to end his life, but that if one person smiled at him as he was one his way, he would turn round and come home. It was clear that nobody did.
In one sense, there is nothing surprising about that story. In busy cities, and on public transport, we are advised to avoid direct eye contact. Besides, many are locked into their own world, sending trivial messages on their mobile devices, or intently listening through their earphones.
Yet there is something tragic about the story.
A smile, which costs nothing and uses fewer facial muscles than a frown, can be amazingly transformative. One man swore that a loved one’s smile made a nightingale sing in Barkley Square!
In giving advice for life, an Old Testament sage counselled, ‘Eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart....always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.’(Ecclesiastes 9; 7,8). Since the white garment and oil were signs of rejoicing, the writer is advising us to put on a happy face, to help spread gladness around.
One smile would have saved that man’s life in San Francisco. How many lives might we gladden today by a ready smile?