Part of the reason I ignored everyone who told me to start with a different marathon than San Francisco, (which leads me to believe some folks are laboring under the delusion that I may attempt this distance more than once) was that I had a rich fantasy about running over the Golden Gate Bridge. I imagined it over and over, warm and sunny, an easy breeze. It would be so beautiful, so absolutely serene up there. I imagined just me and a pile of endorphins chugging along in the early morning July sun, angling perfectly for a survey of my gorgeous city, smiling.
The first time I made it over was the day of the half marathon. If you recall, a big storm hit us that morning and I couldn't see much of anything. I saw the hail cutting across the sky at a sharp angle, carried in high winds into my face. I saw the diesel trucks speeding by me leaving clouds of fuel in their wakes. I saw the girders of the bridge, massive orange twists by the railings. But the weather was so bad, I had to focus entirely on my task, thereby rendering my virgin journey a relatively moot point. Which mimics other virgin experiences I've had. Not to brag.
Saturday was more like I imagined. The wind was tough, but manageable, especially with an utter lack of hail or rain and the sun shining all over the city. I couldn't believe it up there. Heading over to Marin, my brain began to register the the absolute majesty of the thing, an orange amazon beckoning to the world.
I kept thinking about this article I read about jumpers. This was back when I had a subscription to the New Yorker. I had to cancel it because it made me feel like such a slacker. It's just impossible for me to keep up with all that brain power each and every week. It felt like graduate school. But this article stayed with me, held on like a cat with it's pretty little curling claws. Not only is the Golden Gate Bridge possibly the most photographed bridge is the world, it is also the most popular place to commit suicide. In the whole wide world. And that's even with the statistics missing some folks.
I have to say, while I was up there, it seemed a little bit seductive. I had a sense of wanting something from that place, and I could see, extrapolated to its end, along with the perfect storm of despondence, isolation, or whatever group of feelings accompanies a jumper, that this place would call to a person. There might be a longing to merge with such a moment of beauty. The imagination could map out a fictional four second flight, idealize the unknown experience of the water seventy five feet down there, which from the deck doesn't actually look all that deadly. You could face the city or you could face the gate of the world, the fat Pacific with its cold massive water. I don't mean to sound morbid, but it's so gorgeous up there, it's like they built the thing just to hop from it. It seems easy. The railing isn't high, there's no barrier at all.
I remember on September 11th, I was in Boston at graduate school when I heard about how all those planes had taken off from this town I was doing time in, never a home, but a metropolitan hotel for me, really, and they had made their way to DC and New York. I didn't know anyone in DC but I knew a crapload of folks in New York. Like everyone else in America, and everyplace, I got on the phone to try and get ahold of them. I got through to my friend Eileen. She was sitting on the roof with her neighbors watching the towers. The tower, actually, by that point. They were drinking coffee, because nothing, NOTHING, interrupts the need for coffee, and watching the burning sky in the distance, watching the world change while we watched it on television. She took me down with her to get more coffee and when she came up, the tower was gone. That's how I remember that day. I don't know if that's how it happened, but I do know the elements are true: There was a roof, Eileen, height, and then a fall. With a side of coffee. A poet in my ear, I watched a screen while the western world understood just the tiniest bit about Beirut and Kabul. About the fall of Rome, about the details in a massive act of destruction and rage. About a landscape's mortality. About everyone's. Later, in an interview, Eileen would talk about the towers and watching them being built in 1970. About how everyone walked under them. "Of course we saw them falling," she said. "We all saw them falling. They were built to fall."
Is that the thing about majesty? If we can't have it, we try to merge with it? If we can't merge with it, we kill it? Is that the story of assassinations and war and empire? There is a rise, and there is a fall. Tony Soprano sang that song. Top of his lungs, the guy sang it. And on that bridge Saturday morning I could hear the chorus. Not the destruction of the beauty part, but first the urge to be it. The Kurt Cobain thing, to want to be a part of the hugest thing. That was the bridge for me. A tug below my ribs, the expanse of it there live and on foot almost excruciating, the crux of where pleasure and pain merge. The Icarus moment where flight becomes a fall.
I felt so grateful to have it, though, to have that bridge in my hometown, open to feast my eyes on, my legs, my real live fingers on orange steel, everything alive. I felt insanely alive up there when I heard it. A tiny sound at first, confusing. It sounded like a horn, but like a horn escaped from Romper Room. Not big enough for a car. And it wasn't. It was one of those little things like a ticket person's cart, or a golfer's. And it goes back and forth on the deck of the bridge with a uniformed person in it. A patrol of the deck. Looking for the jumpers. Trying to hold back their urge to merge.
May all who walk that beautiful bridge find the way to stay put on the deck and feast on the sight. May they have peace. And may they have kindness.
Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final.
— Rainer Maria Rilke
Love, and more love,