I stroll on the Golden Gate Bridge’s pedestrian walkway each time I visit San Francisco. It’s a tradition and sort of a compulsion. Ever since I moved away from the Bay Area, the bridge walk during visits, has simply given me closure. Most of the time I do this on the day of departure back to home, but not always. Just so long as the walk is done, I’m mentally recharged.
One other thing occurs during most, but not all, of my walks across the bridge is l’appel du vide. That is the French idiom for the compulsion to leap from high places. This is not a suicidal desire, but the split second urge feels very close to what suicidal behavior must be. This urge quickly sweeps through my mind. I peer over the edge of the railing to the bay waters below. A violent shiver shoots up the spine and I instantly feel a strong physical jolt.
After this happens to me on the Golden Gate Bridge, I utter a short secular prayer of mourning to all the people who leapt to their deaths from the gorgeous bridge. I wonder if most of them felt l’appel du vide “the call of the void” because the feeling is one of self-preservation. I can only guess that if their intent was to end their lives, they may have felt the call of the void but pushed it to the back of their minds in order to follow through. My guess seems gruesome, but I think it’s valid.
The famous bridge has been deemed a “suicide magnet” due to it being the second most used suicide bridge in the world. (The Yangtze River Bridge in China holds the dubious first place title.) The last time I was in San Francisco, the Suicide Deterrent System project for the bridge was only in the planning stage. Supposedly the netting and the new railings were to be completed by this month. I wonder if I’ll experience l’appel du vide the next time I walk across the bridge or if the net will interfere with this psychological reaction.
L’appel du vide is a state of mind that most people don’t admit to experiencing. I used to believe I was the only person who felt this until some of my friends confided that they’ve experienced the call of the void in other instances. They looked over the edge of a high balcony or the edge of a cliff to enjoy the view, then, out of nowhere, the thought instantly came over them: “Why don’t I just jump from here?” They always reacted with a quick, physical recoil of revulsion at the thought.
There have been instances where l’appel du vide swept into my mind when I wasn’t on the bridge. It happened a couple of times while standing on a ladder while I cleaned my house’s roof gutters. It also occurred during a visit to the Grand Canyon. I know for sure, that I’m not fond of high places. I wouldn’t want to wash skyscraper windows for a living nor climb mountains. However, I greatly admire people who can do such things.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes British actor, Charlie Rowe. “Heights make my feet tingle; not sure if that is a phobia, but it isn’t the greatest feeling.”