The Life You Save Is Your Own
In 1988 Bill Moyers sat down with scholar Joseph Campbell to talk about mythology and religion. In one of the PBS interviews Campbell tells the story of two police officers in Hawaii. They were driving one afternoon near the Pali, a place where the trade winds from the north come rushing through a great ridge of mountains. People go there to feel the mighty wind, to let it blow through their hair. But sometimes people go there to commit suicide.
There is a guard rail along the road to keep cars from plunging over the edge, and up ahead the police officers saw a young man outside the guard rail—preparing to jump. The officer driving sped up and stopped quickly by the man. The other officer jumped out and, just as the man jumped, he caught him. The problem was, the officer was being pulled over the precipice. The other officer arrived just in time to pull them both back.
Later a newspaper reporter asked the policeman, “Why didn’t you let go? You would have been killed.” And the officer said, “I couldn’t let go. If I had let that young man go, I couldn’t have lived another day of my life.”
Campbell says, “Why did he do it?” Sometimes in a moment of psychological crisis like this, said Campbell, you experience a breakthrough, a realization. You see through the surface and into the depths of things. In that instant the officer saw through the apparent separateness of persons. Here I am, an officer sitting in this squad car; and there he is out there, a man perched on a precipice. That’s the surface reality. The deep reality is that the man in the squad car and the man on the precipice are not two but one.
And then Bill Moyers said, “So when Jesus says, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself,’ he is saying, in effect, ‘Love thy neighbor because he is yourself.’” Campbell nodded silently.