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A Cup of Tea and a Smile

BY Matthew Warner

| Posted 6/22/10 at 1:45 AM

 

Blessed Mother Teresa said that “peace begins with a smile.” And for one 84 year old Australian man, that rings especially true.

For most of his long life, Don Ritchie has lived directly across the street from Australia’s most popular suicide spot: The Gap - a rocky cliff on Sydney Harbor. During that time he has saved an estimated 160 people from jumping off.  A few times he had to put his own life at risk to do so. But most of the time all it took was a smile and a cup of tea.

Each morning, he climbs out of bed, pads over to the bedroom window of his modest, two-story home, and scans the cliff. If he spots anyone standing alone too close to the precipice, he hurries to their side. [full story]

Once by their side, he simply offers them a cup of tea and a caring smile. No complex head games or attempts to solve the complex problems going on in the person’s life. Just a smile from a stranger.

A smile cannot, of course, save everyone; the motivations behind suicide are too varied. But simple kindness can be surprisingly effective. Mental health professionals tell the story of a note left behind by a man who jumped off San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way to the bridge, the man wrote, I will not jump. [...]

“They often don’t want to die, it’s more that they want the pain to go away,”... “So anyone that offers kindness or hope has the capacity to help a number of people.”

I thought this was a wonderful story and a great reminder of the power of a warm smile.  We don’t have to have all the answers or be especially skilled to help people in need. Sometimes we just have to smile. We can all do that.

We also don’t have to live across the street from suicidal cliffs. Somebody you know - a neighbor, somebody in the cubical next door, a friend, a commenter on your favorite blog, a person you pass by on the street - is standing on a cliff. And all they may need right now is a smile and a cup of tea.