After her first two failures she took special measures to assure that this attempt would not be thwarted. She chose the time and location carefully, planned it down to the final minute. This time she would leave no room for heroes.
Sent out to complete a mechanical inspection, I was given the wrong location and drove twenty minutes in the opposite direction before receiving a corrected radio communication. I never imagined she’d still be there when I arrived; nor did I expect the callous reaction of the personnel at the scene.
They were gathered in a circle reminiscing about previous experiences like fishermen reliving the time the big one got away. Each trying to out do the other, they volleyed stories and shared half-suppressed laughs.
A police officer, seemingly unpracticed in the art of giving comfort, stood over the visibly shaken operator who sat with his head in his hands. It wasn’t his fault. There was nothing he could have done to avoid it. She forced his hand making him the involuntary pawn of her freewill.
I climbed up into the cab to begin the inspection. The car held dozens of anxious passengers. Some were distraught, but most had grown impatient with the wait. Upset to learn that I wasn’t the replacement engineer, the passengers took their frustrations out on me. One rider glared at me as I climbed back down to inspect the running gear. Maybe he thought my tardiness was the reason for the hold up; truth be known—they wouldn’t be moving anytime soon.
She had carefully studied the train schedule, selecting a morning express to Chicago. This run would obtain a speed that would require a longer stopping distance. The location she chose was a relatively isolated spot with poor street access, hampering any emergency equipment. She squirmed under the fence and hid in a gravel depression along the roadbed. There she waited for the precise moment to make her move.
The northbound train had reached full speed in the middle of its uninterrupted run from 55th Street to the 11th Street station. With the hypnotic clickety-clack of the commuter car growing louder with its approach, she jumped to her feet and ran to the track. Lying lengthwise with her arms and legs straddling the rail, she placed her head facing away from the oncoming train.
The engineer threw the train into an emergency brake application and laid on the horn. The brakes screeched as coffee cups and cellphones flew about the car. She remained facedown on the rail, hands pressed hard against her ears, shoulders waggling from side-to-side as the train advanced on her. The engineer watched in horror as she disappeared under the wheels. It was over in an instant. The result was devastating.
I’ve been in the presence of death before. It feels like the closest a person can come to the presence of God while here on earth. But this was different. The aftermath of this death presented a surreal mix of human behavior.
I was racked with emotions ranging from outrage at those who found amusement in her demise, to distress for the engineer who had collapsed in an emotional state of remorse. I was unnerved by the unsympathetic passengers who continued to bark at me and tap their watches. “Come on” one man yelled, “I’ve got to get downtown.” They paid no attention to the sad reality that this young woman saw suicide as being her last glimmer of hope.
I have to believe that within us all lives a certain measure of empathy, but somewhere along the way people seem to be losing theirs. Could it be that humanity itself is nearing the end of the line?
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” ~ Norman Cousins