Tragedy lingers. The sadness and the heartache hang in the air — especially right after and even if the victims are gone. The horrible power of the moment has its own life, cautioning us and providing a lesson.
It was that way last week, when a last-minute trip to the Waterfront quickly became a slow-crawl approaching the Homestead Grays Bridge. Maybe it was more construction or a fender bender, one of those daily inconveniences that have us cursing our luck.
Then, as the cars eased past the middle of the bridge, the truth became clear. Dozens of police officers lined the bridge and quietly peered over the rail, as a vehicle with no visible damage was loaded onto a flatbed. Someone had jumped or fallen into the Monongahela River.
News reports later identified a 26-year-old single mom with three children between the ages of 1 and 9. She had stopped in the middle of the bridge and climbed the railing, leaving the kids in the vehicle. Her neighbors said that no one had suspected it would come to this, but she had been struggling, as single moms do.
We know them. They eat last, only after all the kids have eaten. They find clothes at Goodwill and look for family hand-me-downs. If they ever had a credit card, it was maxed-out for life’s essentials. Rent and utilities and medicine become a juggling act. For fun, they take the kids to public parks, if there is a close one.
They struggle. According to a recent Pittsburgh Foundation study, “about 72% of families living below the poverty line are headed by single women raising children.” And working hard and long, which many do, does not guarantee security. A single mom can work more than 40 hours a week at multiple jobs and still not get above the federal poverty level.
Every moment of every day can be a challenge. Affordable and safe housing is scarce, wages are low, day care costs are high. Many jobs are out of reach because they are out-of-sync with bus schedules and routes. And if a child’s illness or problem at school is added to the mix, it is easy to feel trapped.
Food is a big problem. According to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, hunger gets in the way of learning for three out of four students in Pittsburgh Public Schools. And outside of the cities, where rural Pennsylvanians lack access to social services, finding enough to eat is just as hard.
There was other news last week, stories about shiny new office towers and pricey condos. A nice park is being planned for the old Civic Arena site. And Pittsburgh probably made another top 10 list.
But all that glitters is not gold. All around us are neighbors struggling through each day. All around us are single moms doing their best to make life work for their kids.
What happened on that bridge should not be forgotten. Let it remind us of the struggles of our neighbors and lead us to help. Then we will have wrung the only drop of hope out of this heartache.