Angel at the Gap

The Gap at Sydney Harbor, where 50 people take their own lives each year.

The Gap at Sydney Harbor, where 50 people take their own lives each year.

Over 45 years ago, Don Ritchie and his wife Moya purchased a house overlooking the Gap, the cliffs at Sydney Harbour. The Gap offers amazing views, and a tragic history – every year, about fifty people leap off the cliffs to die on the rocks below. Almost immediately, Don noticed someone “lingering a little too long,” contemplating suicide. His solution? He invited the troubled person to come over and have a cup of tea.

Ritchie, who is now 84, received a medal for bravery in 1970, and and Order of Australia medal in 2006, Australia’s second-highest honor. In some cases, the bravery was obvious — he would go over the fence himself, and bring people back to safety. One woman nearly took him over the edge with her.

But it is also a brave act to simply approach someone who is obviously so distraught. How many of us visit a shiva house, a house of mourning, and find ourselves at a loss for words? The more acute the pain – after the loss of a child, for example – the less we feel any hope of being able to offer words of comfort.

Don was a salesman – “I used to sell kitchen scales and bacon cutters, then I was state manager of a life insurance company. At the Gap, I’m trying to sell people life.” It was his job to find the right things to say… And what did he say? He just invited them in for tea.

What he did was offer them friendship, and a listening ear. By inviting them in for tea, he was inviting them to talk. he didn’t have to say anything – it was the listening that was important.

There are a lot of people wandering around who would appreciate a listening ear. You don’t even have to offer them a cup of tea.

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5 Responses

  1. cvmay says:

    Beautiful and inspirational piece.
    Thank you..

    The skill of communication consists of two parts: speaking and listening. To master and become an effective communicator is a difficult task that requires constant improvement, enhancement and lots of trial & error.

  2. Marlene Schroeder says:

    An angel in disguise.

  3. Roderick says:

    G-d is love — certainly His core essence is best understood by what we call love, with its courage, its patience, its creative force, its kindness and faithfulness and so on . Small gestures of care in a time of grief or despair are amplified to great magnitude. I’ve experience that first hand, as many of us have. When numbed by heartbreak and sorrow the mere reaching from a stranger is like a lifeline being thrown. Isn’t it good that Don Ritchie wasn’t too busy to notice what was happening, or too in a hurry to break out of his routine.

    So many have a desire to help, to heal, but we just don’t get around to it. In many ways the complexities of post modern life are an evil conspiracy against us, our humanity, and the fullness of life.

    I would feel blessed to be able to dwell in the moment even a fraction as well as Don Ritchie. May G-d continue to bless Don Ritchie and his family, now and forever.

  4. Neriah D says:

    This is such a great story of the way we really SHOULD be. I’ve read it several times…cuz there are times we ALL need some kind words…or just the comfort of a friend to “be” there for you.
    Don will be most blessed by HaShem for his courage & big heart.

  5. Samuel Svarc says:

    This caught me out of the blue. I glanced at the title, figured it was worth a read, and a scant sixty seconds later find myself holding back tears.

    Thank you for the object lesson and may we be worthy of emulating it.

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