There is a set of cliffs in Australia, just east of Sydney Harbor, that is one of those spots that attracts suicide jumpers. Just 146 feet away, Don Ritchie lived with his wife Moya in a home they owned since 1946. Don began to notice when visitors to the area, known as the Gap, lingered and seemed to be much more preoccupied than a simple sight seer should be. Don would walk over to these individuals and ask one simple question, “Can I help you in some way?”
This one question could be all that it took to change the course of these suicidal individuals. Don would often invite these people over to his home for tea as the tragic tendencies of these individuals would subside. Don is credited with preventing 160 deaths but the number is probably much greater.
I was so struck by this story because of the beautiful simplicity of what Don did. I am a processor and like to think and prepare before I take action. Because of this, I can talk myself out of helping those around me because I assume that I don’t know enough to truly help them. I am so afraid of offending them or being a bother that I fail to take action. Don didn’t need formal suicide prevention training, a psychology degree, or a counseling certificate. Don just knew that he needed to help people and did what he could and it saved hundreds of lives. He said, “Never be afraid to speak to those who you feel are in need. Always remember the power of the simple smile, a helping hand, a listening ear and a kind word.”
Is there anything more tragic than suicide? Is the thought of helping someone at this stage of despair overwhelming? Don shows us that being present and saying a few kind words can prevent hundreds of lives ending in self inflicted tragedy. Don became known as the Angel of the Gap for doing nothing more than chatting with people and being a caring person.
Like Jesus stopping to talk to a despised, lonely Zaccheus we can use the power of our mere presence and kindness to change the course of a life and countless others in the process.
Who is it in your life that you need to walk up to and ask, “Can I help you in some way?” Who needs to be reminded of their worth and the preciousness of this life? Be like the Angel of the Gap and make a simple act of love today.