A most life-affirming programme

Guardian angels come in unlikely forms, writes Brendan O’Regan

I wrote a lot about death last week, but my main item this week is one of the most life affirming programmes I’ve seen.

The Stranger on the Bridge (Channel 4 Monday of last week) told the fascinating story of Jonny Benjamin who was talked out of committing suicide on Waterloo Bridge in London by a random passer-by.

Jonny remembered the man who saved his life as ‘Mike’ and set about finding him. The ‘Find Mike’ campaign went worldwide thanks to extensive coverage in both traditional and social media, but Jonny didn’t find it easy to find his hero.

Many responded to his appeal, claiming to be ‘Mike’ but stories didn’t tally. While some of these seemed bogus, from publicity seekers, it turned out that quite a few had saved people from suicide and genuinely thought that Jonny was the one they had saved.

One young woman thought a friend of hers was ‘Mike’ and Jonny’s meeting with him was quite moving. He wasn’t the Mike, but had indeed saved someone around the same time. Eventually, it turned out that the man who saved Jonny – his ‘guardian angel’ as one contributor put it – wasn’t a ‘Mike’ at all, and this reunion was hugely emotional.

Apart from the quest to find the one who had impressed upon him that he could get through his problems, the film had other interesting strands, for example the people who emailed him saying how much his story had helped them.

His meeting with Lisa was particularly insightful and touching – her twin brother had committed suicide leaving her with a legacy of guilt. Jonny’s insights were now helping her to cope.

I had some reservations and unease as the quest seemed to be emotionally draining for Jonny and was in danger of putting him back in the frame of mind that led him originally to the bridge. The style of the show was a little too like an intrusive kind of reality TV for my liking, but overall it was a massive vote of confidence in the value of life and the goodness of people.

Several of the items on last weekend’s Sunday Spirit (RTÉ Radio 1 Extra) were also life affirming. I was particularly taken with Andrew Sweeney, a young man who is CEO and founder of the Scoop Foundation – supporting children out of poverty.

His travels in the East contributed to his desire to help and one of his many projects was funding schools in Cambodia. I was surprised to learn that the Corrymeela Community was 50 years old (it had started before the ‘Troubles’) but I wasn’t surprised to learn from guest Padraig O Tuama, that their peace and reconciliation work was still needed in the North, whereas presenter Michael Comyn pointed out, there was now also a problem with racism.

Finally, it’s getting very close to make your mind up time for the marriage referendum. You know things are getting serious when the podiums are hauled out for TV debates.  On Tuesday of last week there was an RTÉ Prime Time debate with three speakers on each side. It was robust to say the least, and maybe a draw in the end, but one of the most worrying things was when Noel Whelan of ‘Yes Equality’, asked if Accord’s marriage counselling service would be under threat, said the Government couldn’t be giving funding to groups that discriminate.

On the Wednesday night, Tonight with Vincent Browne also had a formal debate. I thought Tom Finegan of Mothers and Fathers Matter ran rings around David Norris and George Hook. There’s something definitely problematic about Hook, being a current affairs radio show host, identifying himself so publicly with one side of the debate, and I’m still gobsmacked by one of his contributions: “Why does a child have to have a mother and father?” Duh!

One of the silliest aspects last week was how the debate centred on those ‘no’ posters. Classic diversionary tactics, suggesting someone has either lost the plot or lost the argument or both.

The worst instance was an interview with the still anonymous man in the poster picture on last Saturday’s Marian Finucane Show, with Aine Lawlor subbing. Best response to this barrel of smoke was a headline from the satirical Waterford Whispers website: ‘Golden retriever horrified after stock image appears on Pedigree Chum cans’.


Pick of the Week

Theatre of the Word
EWTN, Sunday (night), May 17, 3am

Theatre of the Word actor Kevin O’Brien brings the life, ministry and journeys of St Paul to life in this one-man drama.

Who is for Liberation? – Radharc Revisited
RTĖ One, Monday, May 18, 11.35pm
Episode of Radharc from 1980, including last TV interview with Archbishop Oscar Romero.

My Life, My Religion
BBC 2, Monday (night), May 18, 5:25am
Ten-year-old Nathan explains all about his religion, Christianity, in this Learning Zone programme for primary school children.