Last week I had an experience that I can only describe as being punched in the stomach. I feel compelled to share it with you as it has profoundly impacted me and I do not wish that feeling to go away. So this is my attempt to pay it forward. 

An ordinary Tuesday morning I set off to walk my dog before work, occupied with thoughts of the day ahead. I live downtown (Toronto, ON, Canada), in a neighborhood that is noteworthy for its diversity. I say this only as a dog owner (and parent ) that dogs allow us to be connected to people in ways that seem easier than our regular life. That is a tangent - but perhaps foreshadowing..... I have a walking 'circuit' in the morning, across Gerrard St. walking east, down the side of Bridgepoint and through Riverdale park and home again - a 20 minute hustle for me and my Bernese Mountain Dog. I lift my head as I walk across Gerrard, seeing familiar faces of those that walk to work, riders and fellow travelers on a similar morning routine - people just focused on getting 'there'. Ahead of me, I take in an anomaly to my morning view - a young person standing on the bridge. Definitely female - resting slightly on the lamppost looking forward up the Don River. Unusual I think. I walk on. 

My perspective continues to change, focus, sharpen. It is perhaps not a young woman, but now older as I get closer. Slim. Wearing a backpack. Neatly dressed and I see her water bottle in the side of her backpack from far away and somehow that is reassuring.  She is standing on the bridge and I wonder what she is looking at - what has caught her eye I ask myself.  I walk on, but now see that her feet firmly planted on the river side of the bridge - not a position of safety in my assessment and I suddenly have a sense of anxiety and I am processing what I see differently.  Time slows down and I think as I walk towards her about the bustling humanity that travels past her as she stands, seemingly immobile, with her fixed forward stare. Am I only the person that sees her standing on the bridge? 

And now I feel a sense of urgency that no one can see her but me. I reach her and stop.  Unsure, and perhaps a little awkward and embarrassed to interfere, but I feel that I must and just get over myself. I reach up to her and touch her arm and she doesn't flinch or even react - and ask her if she is ok. She does not turn or move but her tears start to stream down her face. I just keep talking in a soft tone - are you ok? can I help? is there something I can do? She does not move, she does not say a word - but her tears flow and I do not let go of her. And I am frozen, attached to a woman I do not know, and in this moment I am utterly convinced that if I let go of her arm, she will let go. My dog sits quietly - and an eternity passes - possibly even a couple of minutes, before a cyclist also takes in the visage of the woman standing on the bridge with the dog walker interrupted and he stops - he sees. He mimes to me should I make the call. It doesn't occur to me to break my connection to her and reach for my phone to call 911 for help. He calls.  An ambulance stops. A single police cruiser stops.  I am dismissed from the scene. 

Not a single word is exchanged between the woman and I. She is pulled back from the bridge precipice by trained professionals. I walk on. Today I think I might have saved her life. Tomorrow I have no idea who will see her......

Not a word was exchanged between the woman and I. But I believe that I am forever changed. Every day we can make a difference if only we can see where we are needed and address our own fears.  I implore you to always look - a hand may change a life.

About the Author

Sarah Hutchison is President and CEO, OntarioMD


Published with permission from the author. Original post can be found on LinkedIn: