Lauren Chambliss, Liz Maxwell, Trebbe Johnson
626 Thurston Avenue, Ithaca, NY

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Story & Experience

Lauren: Today we went to a place that symbolizes the despair and hopelessness so many young people feel.  Cornell Campus’ Thurston Ave Bridge is well-known both for its extraordinary beauty and its dark history of tragedy – over the years Cornell students have taken their lives by jumping off the bridge (and others) into the gorges more than 100 feet below.  In recent years, nets were installed below the bridge to stop a body from falling. One of the last people to die here was a young man who had a 3.95 GPA and seemingly everything to live for. I hear from my students all the time about the self-doubt, loneliness, and uncertainty that are often part of being 20, but in today’s America, they have the added burden of true concern about their future. For them, the existential threats are real. They have little faith in institutions, doubt democracy’s resilience, do not think they will have as good a life as their parents, see rampant injustice and inequality, and worry about climate change’s impact.


Our ceremony at the site was simple and beautiful – acknowledging the pain of the young people who over the years have taken their lives – and the many, many others who simply bear it, often in silence. Then we spoke about the beauty of the place, leaving flags and flowers to remind the thousands of students who pass by daily on this main campus artery, to search for radical joy and beauty in hard times. We talked about how most of the students who see the memorial will have an idea of why it’s there, at least in the abstract.  We hoped and prayed that some of them will unravel an individual thread to their own joy, or maybe have a deeper conversation with friends as they pass by.


After we were done, as I was driving away, in my rear-view mirror I watched as a young man walking across the bridge paused in front of the flags.  He looked for what seemed like a long time.  I felt my own radical joy and deep gratitude that I got to spend a Sunday morning after Roe v. Wade,  in a ceremony, with two of my dearest friends, Trebbe Johnson and Liz Maxwell.


Trebbe: This was a different kind of RadJoy “wounded place”. Usually, it’s a natural area that has been damaged in some way. This gorge, one of many in Ithaca, is, to the contrary, beautiful, treasured, and protected. Hiking along the gorge trails is a big part of life here. But today we wanted to acknowledge and mourn a much more solemn reason for seeking out one of these steep gorges: the despair of a young person who feels there is no resolution but death. After we took the photo, we tossed the flowers, one at a time, over the side of the bridge, calling out our wishes and prayers for young people to find beauty that will soothe their despair and for comfort and healing for the families of those who have died. Some of the flowers drifted down to the stream; some were caught on the netting that authorities put up to catch those who might jump (photo below).

626 Thurston Avenue, Ithaca, NY


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Radical Joy Revealed is a weekly message of inspiration about finding and making beauty in wounded places.