A desperate young man teeters on a ledge, onlooker asks 'why is he doing this to us?'
Published 02/07/2014 | 02:30
To stand there on Dame Street yesterday, head craned upwards along with a thousand others, was to know what it was like to feel utterly, stupidly, helpless.
High above, teetering on a rooftop ledge, a disturbed young man stripped to the waist was threatening to jump. The authorities had cleared the stretch of street below him, and it was assumed (correctly) that there were people on the roof trying to talk him down, but for now his life was in the balance, and there was nothing anyone could do to help.
So there you are. You've stumbled into a situation. You can't do anything useful, so what's the right thing to do? Is there a right thing to do? Should you stay rubber-necking until there's closure, one way or the other? Or should you walk on by, because it looks like it's not going to end well and who needs that?
The man on the roof rushed many into a decision by stepping forward and blessing himself, his toes tipping over towards oblivion. Taking their cue, some blinkered their eyes with cupped hands and ran away in a hunch, as if fleeing a downpour.
The sign of the cross he made sent a shiver through the crowd, but only for a nanosecond before a thousand mobile phones and tourist cameras began clicking away.
The helpless inaction of minutes earlier had turned to action, but of what kind? After a couple of moments of being self-righteously judgmental of this tasteless snap-happy orgy, I found myself shooting away with my own phone. I still don't know if doing so was good, bad or just ugly.
The distressed man now took up position by a flagpole perched on the rooftop's edge. He began hugging the flagpole for what seemed like dear life producing a sigh of relief from below.
But the next moment he turned unsteadily around, waved to his audience, and once again assumed the stance of a high-board diver.
A young woman beside me groaned: "I can't stand this. Why is he doing this to us?"
To us? It might seem an odd thing to say but by now she was reflecting a growing anger in the onlookers, or at least amongst those who didn't have their heads buried in their phones and tablets, posting and tweeting in a race to be first with the breaking news.
Their friends and followers updated, many began to drift away, leaving the man to his fate.
Things to do, people to meet.
But others kept arriving, amongst them a tourist with her young son in tow.
Her reaction was as chilling in its own way as anything on the rooftop – she beckoned to her son, perhaps aged 10, to hurry over and get a good view of the man about to jump from the roof. Now that was truly shocking.
I had to leave for an appointment, but as I headed towards Grafton Street I passed a young couple who five minutes earlier had stood beside me taking photos of the man on the roof.
Now they were taking shots of each other all smiles near the site of the Molly Malone statue. Contrasting sides of Dublin life for the Facebook page.
By now, 90 minutes into what would be a four-hour drama, the episode had begun its cyber-life on Twitter.
The most callous tweet, posted while the man was still dicing with death, read: "Saw a lovely jumper this morning in Abercrombie & Fitch on Dame Street."
The one that best summed-up how the world's moral compass has gone haywire in these hi-tech tooled-up times said: "The people complaining on Twitter about the onlookers on Dame Street are pretty much the same. Both groups enthralled by the situation."