An inspirational good samaritan story

As you grow older, you realise that every event in your life, however intense, is just an episode: nothing endures, says Mary Kenny

Six years ago, a young man feeling suicidal moved towards the edge of Waterloo Bridge in London, preparing to throw himself into the Thames river. As he was about to jump, a stranger approached him and asked him not to plunge. The stranger said: “It’ll get better mate, you will get better. Come and have a cup of coffee instead.”

The would-be suicide is named Jonny Benjamin and he had recently been diagnosed with a schizo-affective disorder which made him prone to depression and paranoia. At the age of 20, he was so unhappy by the thought of living with a mental illness for the rest of his life that he sought to end it all.

The stranger, who identified himself only as ‘Mike’, did talk Jonny out of drowning himself, by assuring him that this bad moment would pass. Eventually Jonny climbed down from the edge. And just as “Mike” promised, things did get better for Jonny and he found support and help for his condition.

Jonny came to feel so grateful to his Good Samaritan for giving him back his life that he launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign called ‘Find Mike’.  And indeed, he did find ‘Mike’ through social media. ‘Mike’ is 31-year old Neil Laybourn, who commutes to work every day across that selfsame Waterloo Bridge, and he sometimes wondered what had happened to the guy about to jump. They were brought together at the end of last month, and Jonny Benjamin again expressed gratitude for Neil’s gentle, but proactive, intervention.

Facebook is 10 years old this week and it is sometimes disparaged for the way it has “stolen childhood” from children and young people: or for the bad influences and bullying that can come through such media. But anything human can be used for good or ill, and social media can connect people together in a beneficial way, too.

Jonny Benjamin’s story is an inspiring one: and it made me think that we should all try to be “Mike” to someone on the edge of despair. Step forward and say “it will get better”.

Paul Kelly of the excellent organisation Console, which seeks to deter suicide as well as to console those bereaved by it, has so aptly described suicide as “a permanent answer to a temporary problem”. That is why the message “it will get better” is important, especially to young people, who often feel intensely about a difficulty in their lives.

As you grow older, you realise that every event in your life, however intense, is just an episode: nothing endures. But when a stranger is in crisis, I hope I may not pass by on the other side, but step forward with a word that becomes a lifeline.

The appeal of Garth Brooks

Shamefully, I had never heard of Garth Brooks until I learned of the frenzy over purchasing tickets for his July concerts in Croke Park. There has been some analysis and discussion too about why he appeals to the Irish so deeply.

Surely that’s obvious. Country and Western Music was brought to the United States by Irish migrants, including the Ulstermen who the Americans called “the Scotch-Irish”. We like it because it appeals to our collective memory. And it has a heart.

Missionaries paved the way

In addition to re-opening the Irish Embassy to the Holy See, the Department of Foreign Affairs is upgrading its diplomatic representation to Sierra Leone.

Another good move. And another instance, by the way, of Irish Catholic missionaries having paved the way.

The Irish Holy Ghost Fathers virtually set up the education system in Sierra Leone. When the country became independent from Britain in 1961, the schools system were in mint condition.

There followed a period of political instability – one-party state, military dictatorship and civil war –  and the decline of the infrastructues. But – in consequence of UN and  British support initiated by Tony Blair in 2002 – came reconstruction and reconciliation . And the deposit of educational benefit left by the Holy Ghost fathers has not been forgotten. The country is both Muslim and Christian but religiously tolerant.

These stories need to be made known, as younger people often don’t know, and don’t remember, what a contribution Irish missionary orders made to so many developing countries around the world.

Philomena and the nuns

The movie of Philomena has a good chance of winning at least one Oscar in Hollywood next month, but even The Guardian admits that the portrayal of the Irish religious sisters really isn’t fair or exact. The film is rated ‘A’ for entertainment value, but ‘B’ for historical accuracy, along with the commentary: “Totally has it in for the nuns. They weren’t that bad. The real Martin Sixsmith [the reporter played by Steve Coogan] even wrote that they were ‘lovely’.”