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Gary Horton: All we have is one life to live

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: June 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 15, 2011 1:55 a.m.


The sound was barely audible through the thick plate glass. A low sound, a serious sound, not especially noticeable above the din of the noisy restaurant where we had met our daughter for lunch.

We were in Seattle, visiting with our daughter Katie. She’d invited us to lunch at a downtown restaurant called Pearl. It was a beautiful place, very artsy, decorated with thick plates of raw, dark steel from floor to ceiling. A beautiful restaurant in the beautiful downtown corner of Seattle.

We’d just checked out of the Fairmont and walked the few short steps across the street to Pearl. Entering the airy restaurant, we noticed a corner table, with giant plate glass views to all corners of the intersection. The hostess granted us this special spot, and we sat down to the commanding views of the street scene outside. I thought to myself, “This is a great spot for people-watching.”

We’d completed our meal. We’d chatted. I’d people-watched. Lots of folks moving up and down the sidewalks during the lunchtime rush. Then came the “thud.”

The noisy tenor in the restaurant quickly quieted. Out on the street, people paused, then recoiled backward, then, almost in unison, looked up toward the top of the Fairmont where we’d just been staying. The intersection cleared. Cars, trucks, people — stopped. Through our giant view windows, we searched the scene. We’d never seen anything like this.
“What just happened?”

A lone blue truck hesitantly rolled past the center of the intersection eastward. In front of the truck, in the middle of the street, not 100 feet from our table, lay a man. Full prostrate, head up, arms at his side. No movement. No blood. Absolutely still. Had he been hit? No. Hundreds of pedestrians still looked upward toward the top of the Fairmont.

Five or six people approached the motionless man. One drew cautiously closer, peering, angling hesitantly for a close view — but then withdrew. For 10, 15 seconds, a small group stood around the man, uncertain of their response. Suddenly, a woman raced from the sidewalk, checked the man’s pulse, and began pumping CPR on his chest. Over and again she pressed. Moments later, a staffer from the Fairmont arrived and applied a defibrillator.

We watched this surreal scene unfold through the heavy plate glass of our view seat in the restaurant. It became apparent that the blue truck had not hit the man. He’d jumped from the 11th floor of the Fairmont where we’d just stayed, and he landed in front of the eastbound truck. His body now lay 100 feet from our table.

About 90 seconds later, police arrived. First, they applied warming blankets. The Fire Department appeared; they covered the man with white sheets. The whole thing took no more than five minutes from jump to thud to white sheets and crime-scene tape around the intersection. All just 100 feet through our window where hundreds had been busy with their lunch and daily bustle.

Each of us was stunned, and still are. The sadness of the scene, thoughts of what drove the man to jump, the impact on the crowd, the impact to the man’s relations — is a dark, deep, empty hole. What do you say to it? How do you respond to this? What do you come away with, save sadness?

The morning we’d left L.A. for Seattle, we had breakfast with a Danish doctor friend, who was visiting a cancer patient who had once housed his son as a foreign-exchange student. They had become friends, and now, years later, she had terminal cancer.

At one point during the conversation, I mentioned some work problems, and quipped that it might be easier to hang myself.
His face drew very serious, and he responded, “Gary, don’t ever do that.”

I felt bad for the poor quip. I’d forgotten that this man had lost both his sons to separate accidents, each when they were 19 years old. I cannot fathom the despair he must have confronted as he faced the loss of his only two children, and yet he had to rebuild and continue his life.

“Life,” he told me with his thick Danish accent, “will always have unexpected highs and lows, tragedies and blessed surprises. We must grasp life firmly and live for the good in each day.”

“Yesterday,” he said, “is history. The future is a mystery. Today, we get to live.”

Twenty minutes after that muted thud, the sheet-covered body was placed in an ambulance and then driven away. Nothing more is yet known of the man who, for unknown reasons, thought it best to take his own life in the middle of a busy downtown Seattle.

We exited the restaurant and turned away down the street. I hugged my wife Carrie, hugged Katie. I told them I love them with all my heart. We went away very quiet.

Seeing what we saw, we won’t be the same. From the man’s tragic death came a new commitment to invest in every moment of every day we’re blessed to live.

They say we have but one life to live. That much is bluntly, and most certainly true. Hold on closely to those around you, and give it all you’ve got.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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