Tuesday, May 15, 2012

How to save a life

Don Ritchie died today.

Who is Don Ritchie, you may well ask?

A good question.

In Sydney, there is a beautiful stretch of cliffs near the edge of Sydney Harbour called The Gap. Near Vaucluse, the mighty Pacific Ocean rolls in far below, with its turbulence blunted by the sheer distance, it look like a slightly ruffled blue blanket.

File:The Gap looking north.JPG

It is near this delightful area that some fifty Australians a year, desperate and out of hope, come to throw themselves off the cliffs.

Don Ritchie happened to live near the Gap. His front garden looked directly out on to the spot where people would come to end their lives.

Not exactly a selling point for the real estate brochure. Hang out in your garden long enough, and you'll see people kill themselves.

So what did Don Ritchie do about it?

For 50 years, and with very little fanfare, he talked people down from that terrible ledge.

Over 160 people, in fact. He would speak to them kindly, and invite them into his home for a cup of tea. Sometimes when everything seems hopeless, that's actually all it takes.

He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, and named as a Local Hero (a horribly garish title, to be sure, but apt in this case) in the Australian of the Year awards in 2011.  He used the acceptance speech to encourage others to not be afraid to speak to those most in need.

The modern age has resulted in people outsourcing their compassion towards others. When we feel sad about something, we write a cheque to some charity who claim to help the problem. Or in an even more shriveled display of action, we vote every four years for a politician who claims that they'll do something about the problem.

Don Ritchie and his wife Moya, meanwhile, were a two-person suicide prevention program, operating on nothing but a willingness to reach out to those in need.

How many of us will be able to look back on our lives and claim that we made as much difference into the lives of people as Don Ritchie did?

In the end, your morality is only as good as the way you treat the people you meet in life.

Don Ritchie understood that well.

Ave, Atque Vale, Mr Ritchie.

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