Returning to “that bridge” for TED Talks

I’m pretty surprised that it caught me off guard. For weeks I’ve been planning to be in Brooklyn for TEDFest (a simulcast event of the famed TED conference happening in Vancouver). I booked my travel, planned my schedule, covered my commitments at home.

This morning I dashed out of the High Street station and into a taxi for the short drive to St. Anne’s Warehouse. I was later than I’d hoped so my focus was just on finding the space, getting into the theater, and finding a seat for the first of three two-hour long sessions of TED talks. A power failure had delayed the start by a few minutes and so I was right on time. It was only at lunch that it hit me where I was. For only the second time since that dark night of the soul, I was at the scene of my near-death experience: the Manhattan Bridge.

I stepped out into the bright April sun and looked up at the towering structure as I walked a few blocks away for lunch. Wow. It’s indeed massive. Silently I offered a prayer of gratitude that I could be here to take in this scene today as I recalled June 11, 2003, the night I leapt from the edge of that bridge nearly ending my life. As I’ve since pieced it together, in the depths of a drug-induced depression, I made the massive mistake of attempting suicide. I passed out somewhere in mid-air and crashed into the treacherous waters. I floated in and out of consciousness as I floated down the East River, underneath the more iconic Brooklyn Bridge and far enough out towards the path of the Staten Island Ferry that passengers there could hear my cries for help, alert the ship’s captain, who notified the Coast Guard, who ultimately fished me out of the water, near death, a few hours after my jump.

In the nearly 15 years since that night I’ve made a wealth of changes: sobriety, therapy, EMDR, weight-loss, to name only a few. I’ve been married to a remarkable man for over a decade, we’ve adopted two kids and hope to add a third to the family in the next year. I’ve moved across the country to take a lucrative academic position and completed my doctorate.

But, standing there, looking up at “that bridge” all I could think was how misguided I was that night and how flipping lucky I am to be here today. The life I lead now does not even resemble the existence I had then. The working title of the book I’m slowly writing says it all: The Bridge Back to Life — one man’s journey from the edge of death to the center of life.

Delivering my TED talk in March 2011

And, thanks to TED, I’ve overcome my fear of talking about this journey. After the inspiration of my friend Glenna at TED 2010 I stepped out and told my story in a four-minute TED talk the next year.

That brief talk has opened the door for me to speak often at other gatherings of survivors, health-care providers, and fellow educators. It’s somehow fitting that I would end up here now, with over 500 “fest friends” to renew my contact with the bridge. I would not wish my journey on anybody…but I do know now that my journey has brought me into a life beyond my wildest dreams. I’m grateful to TED for giving me the courage to finally speak out seven years ago and for giving me the reminder of that dreadful night in the light of today’s noontime sun. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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