The story of the week, for me, was the tale that included equal parts amazement and poignancy: the report that 22-year-old actor Thomas Magill, of New York City, jumped off the 39th floor of his West End Avenue apartment after leaving a note on his Facebook Bio page that said, “I’m over it”, and listed his interests as “being mean” and “making fun of people”. The fascinating part of the story is, he survived the jump with only a severely broken ankle and leg, and a collapsed lung, by landing through the back windshield of a shiny red Dodge Charger. And this, from a landing so hard, his blue Keds were knocked off his feet and on the car behind it.
A friend of mine reacted to hearing this story with macabre amusement: “How much would that suck,” he mused, “if you couldn’t even do suicide right!”. He does have a point, and it’s unknown to the public whether Mr. Magill is in any way glad he survived, or demoralized that his attempt didn’t “work”. Frankly, as a therapist, I consider any suicide attempt that you survive as “successful”.
Suicide is one of the most serious topics that a psychotherapist can hear and address in therapy (sexual abuse is probably the other, and other violent crime, like domestic violence). I believe all US states mandate that if a therapist hears a client have serious thoughts, plans, means, and intent to hurt themselves, he must notify authorities and insist on involuntary hospitalization. In my experience, suicidality is most often the result of a severe and untreated (or under-treated) Major Depressive Disorder. Suicide is also perhaps the saddest and most frustrating thing that can happen to the patient of a therapist, doctor, or even teacher.
I’m not all that spiritual in day-to-day life, and certainly not religious, but you have to wonder what spiritual forces are at work when a man survives a 39-story jump from a building in Manhattan which he intended not to survive (he doesn’t hold the record; window-washer Alcides Moreno survived an accidental 43-story fall on December 7, 2008 (http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/08/31/2010-08-31_miracle_man_plunges_seven_stories_crashes_atop_of_dodge_charger_and_lives_to_tel.html).
I am going to be very curious (and the public might not ever know) what our Mr. Magill will do with his life in the aftermath of the Great Fall. My hope is that the hospital where he is being treated gets him connected with some competent psychiatry and social work to help him address his recovery and whatever issues led up to his jump. We know from his Facebook profile (since taken down) that he was “over it”, but what was he saying that in reaction to? Disappointment? Depression? Stress? Fear? Heartbreak? Frustration? It does the beg the question, exactly what was so bad that hurling off the 39th floor sounded better?
Mr. Magill’s tale is a fable for all of us, and is frankly a blessing in disguise for all concerned — jumper and a world of observers. He’s getting the proverbial second chance; he’s like Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in the classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, where George jumps off a tall bridge into icy cold water after a series of stressors make him despondently wish that he had never been born at all. For 1946, that was George’s version of a Facebook note that he was “over it”. George is saved by his “guardian angel”, Clarence, who saves him from the water and shows him a fantasy of what the town he lived in would be like if he had never lived at all — the lesson being, no one is dispensable, and each person’s life touches so many others.
It makes me wonder if time had been suspended for Mr. Magill, long about the 20th floor of that 39-story drop, so that his own guardian angel could show him what a loss he would be to so many others, just in time for Mr. Magill to point his feet down and flail his arms just right to land on a padded back seat (windshield notwithstanding) to try to reverse the decision he had made 19 floors before. We may never know, as we may never know how all that “guardian angel” business works, but I’d like to bet that Mr. Magill had help from some kind of unseen hands.
Mr. Magill’s “second chance” has significance for all of us. What we would all do, if we had a second chance? What are we all “over it” about, but perhaps just not saying so on our Facebook bio, or perhaps taking to a 39th-floor balcony over?
Mr. Magill’s jump may have in part been out of guilt for his admitted “being mean to people”, but even this begs the question of what was going on in his desperate mind.
Whatever is troubling us, perhaps we don’t need to jump over it, or get a broken leg, a shattered ankle, and a collapsed lung over it. Maybe we just need to put Life in perspective, and get the help we need, guardian angel or no.
I don’t know what kind of life Mr. Magill will have from here on, but I am confident and hopeful that he will, indeed, have that life. And I hope he spends it somehow honoring the millions of jumpers who have gone before him, who didn’t have any Dodge Charger below to save them, or guardian angel, either.
As George Bailey says at the end of “Wonderful Life”, as the little bell rings on his Christmas tree, indicating that our angel Clarence has earned his wings as a gift from Up Above for saving George, “”Atta boy, Clarence.”
I don’t know about Clarence, but I’d say, “‘Atta boy, Thomas Magill.” You just might have that “wonderful life” after all.