On the morning after the first suicide of the year, I walked out on the Bridge.
It was just after six o’clock in the morning. The air was cool enough for legwarmers under my long skirt and flannel over my tank top, and the sky was the fresh pink of daybreak.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I wanted to pray for the man who had jumped 18 hours before, but I feel silly when I pray because I don’t believe an old guy with a beard and a long robe sits in the sky listening to what I have to say. Maybe I wanted to meditate, but “contemplate” was probably closer to what was on my mind. I wanted to ask for rest for his soul. I wanted him to be at peace. I wanted my energy to touch his energy in a way we had missed in life, but thinking that made me feel too woo-woo and new age-y. I wanted some connection with the man, something I didn’t know how to express even to myself.
I wanted to give thanks for my own life too, to express gratitude that I haven’t succumbed to the darkness I sometimes feel near the Gorge, usually at night, when I’m alone in my van, wondering what I’ve really accomplished in my life, wondering why I do what I do day after day, wondering why I’m even walking the earth.
My new friend Zack was an angel to me two nights before, the night before the first suicide of the year. I was walking to the restroom to brush my teeth, and suddenly he was there, for no logical reason. I didn’t recognize him at first. The light was fading and he was skulking around looking for snipes. I walked into the restroom and heard footsteps following me. I was thinking oh shit when he spoke my name, and I realized I had met him and his lady the day before. We talked a bit, and just before we went our own ways, he said that happiness has to come from our hearts, that we have to decide to be happy.
Thank you for that, I said as I hugged him.
Maybe we fight the darkness by deciding to be happy. Deciding isn’t a magical antidote that guarantees everything will be happily ever after. Deciding won’t make all the negatives disappear. But deciding not to dwell, not to wallow, on the negatives seems like a step away from the darkness.
As I walked out on the Bridge, I let the beauty of the Gorge wash over me. I’m always surprised and delighted by that beauty, no matter how many times I see it. Seeing the Gorge never feels routine.
I felt a sense of peace slide over me as I walked. I hoped the man who jumped knew peace too.
As I neared the end of the Bridge, I looked across the street to the south and saw something my brain at first couldn’t understand. I could only make sense of what I saw by thinking someone had set out life-size, three dimensional target practice dummies that looked like rams in what had been a parking area before it was blocked off by the Department of Transportation. Then I realized the creatures looking up at me were moving, alive. Six bighorn sheep were right next to the road, watching me, wondering what I would do next.
I was afraid they would try to cross the road and one would get hit. I walked across the highway slowly and softly told the sheep they shouldn’t be so close to speeding cars. They moved back as I approached, but didn’t leave the empty lot. I perched on the barrier blocking vehicles from entering, and five of the sheep moved closer to the fence separating the empty lot from miles of the Pueblo’s sage. The one sheep that stayed in place kept eating from small patches of lush green grass that had shot up after the monsoon rains. Its mouth moved fast, as if film were being played at high speed. The sheep seemed to be goofing around, trying to make me laugh, but really, that’s just the way its mouth moved when it ate.
One by one, the other five sheep bounded gracefully over the low barbed wire fence and were back in the safety of the sage. Finally, the last one quit munching grass, walked to the fence, hesitated, then jumped across. I had barely breathed a sigh of relief when it hopped the fence again and moved back into the former parking lot to get more of the delicious grass. I continued to sit in silent awe, watching sheep on both sides of the fence, feeling blessed to witness their breakfast.
The sheep in the sage slowly made their way closer to the Gorge. The lone sheep in the parking lot seemed oblivious as the rest of the herd moved farther away. I could no longer see the other five sheep when number six decided it was time to get back to the group. It didn’t seem to want to jump the low fence, but looked for some other way to get to the other side. It approached the tall hurricane fence on the west side of the empty lot and trotted back and forth along it, getting visibly agitated and stamping its feet. It was cut off from its family and not sure how to join them.
I considered getting closer and trying to point the sheep in the right direction, but quickly realized the idea was ridiculous. This creature was not a Disney cutie or barnyard friend. This animal was wild, strong, and a least a little pissed. It might not realize I wanted to help, might instead feel cornered and attacked. While I wanted to have a magical, spiritual moment saving a wild beast, I was more likely to be kicked in the gut by a being living just fine before I can along. I stayed where I was.
The sheep walked over to the lower fence and hesitated, then sailed over into the sage. Go! Go! I silently cheered. There was another low barbed wire fence to clear before following the other sheep into Gorge, but a foot caught in the wire and the sheep crashed to the ground. I gasped, but there seemed to be no serious damage. The sheep was on its feet in moments, then disappeared under the Bridge and into the Gorge.
What connection do I make between these big horn sheep who travel in the Gorge and the man who gave up his life there the day before? I have just the vaguest idea, an idea I can barely grasp and can’t articulate. I feel like the answer is somehow connected to my understanding of my own state of grace.
Someone once told me that grace is a gift we don’t deserve, something given to us for no reason we can understand. I walked back to my van in a state of grace, blessed with a life I’m not sure I deserve, a life that on this day included a moment with bighorn sheep.
(The bulk of this post was written in late summer of 2013, edited in August 2015.)