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He Had No Reason To Live
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There's No Reason for me to be Here
Jim Stewart's account by H. L. Ford
My soul is weary of my life (Job 10:1 KJV).
He couldn't think of a reason not to jump.
Jim Stewart, on the brink of life at age twenty-six, stood in the middle of Clark Fork River Bridge near Plains, Montana, and stared at the swirling waters some thirty feet below.
Needles of cold midnight rain pelted his body, reminding him of another downpour which had precipitated a dramatic change in his life.
Like the character George Bailey, played by actor Jimmy Stewart in the popular 1946 Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life, this Jim Stewart decided to end his life during a moment of deep depression.
Unlike the movie, no guardian angel Clarence appeared. No human rescuer showed up to stop him from jumping. And no group of caring townspeople pleaded for God to intervene on his behalf.
Instead, what happened next is even more astonishing than a movie could portray. “Nobody will believe it, but it's true,” Jim has often remarked.
What brought him to such a moment? To that point, Jim could not say he'd had a wonderful life. In fact, just the opposite. Rainstorms brought grief instead of flowers. Christmas trees were absent and brightly-wrapped gifts from loving parents were unknown. Excitement meant hopping freight trains and riding the rails with his older brother. The pair traveled from Livingston a hundred-twenty miles down the track to Billings, Montana, and back again.
The son of an abusive father, Jim says the best Christmas he ever had was when he was six years old. “We had no tree in the house. No presents. No food at all except maybe a little oatmeal. Three prostitutes, who worked at the bar where my dad served liquor, came to the door, bringing the best dinner. They even set up a tree and put gifts underneath it for us. I never remember a better Christmas than that as a child.”
When Jim was eight, his dad walked out, leaving the struggling family without any support. The boy and his alcoholic mother hit the road, hitchhiking and sleeping under bridges or wherever they could find shelter. They drifted as vagabonds for the next year and a half.
Could life get any harder?
“Once, I fell into the Columbia River at the age of nine and the tide carried me out a mile and a half before the Coast Guard fished me out of the water. As I grew up, I began to hate everyone on the face of the earth. I became very mean,” he says.
That meanness vanished for a short time when he reached the age of twenty-three and married a young woman after a whirlwind romance. The couple moved to Spokane, Washington, where Jim found work installing underground sprinkler systems. His wife gave birth to James Stewart, Jr., to the delight of his proud father.
Jim thought the hard times were behind him until a storm tossed day put a halt to all work on the sprinkler systems. There was no way to continue the job. In his words: “So I came home early in the afternoon and found my wife in bed with my fifteen-year-old nephew. That blew my ideal life. I packed a bag, grabbed my baby son from his crib, and left the place.”
Unfortunately for Jim, his wife came from an influential Spokane family. They hired a hotshot attorney who managed to persuade the court that Jim was a danger to his wife and child. The judge did not even award Jim shared custody of his son.
In addition, the judge ordered Jim to leave the state of Washington.
Without his son, Jim went back to Plains, Montana, and slipped into a dangerous downward
spiral. He worked as a millwright at a sawmill from 4 a.m. To 4 p.m. As soon as he got off work, he headed for the bar and sat there drinking until the joint closed at 2 a.m. Two hours later he would head back to the mill.
“I was drinking a whole case of beer and a whole fifth of whiskey every night. After a while, I started using hash and speed too.”
The cycle went on unbroken for a year and a half. Work, hit the bar, drink, do drugs, work. Until the second rain-soaked event in Jim's not-so-wonderful life. The night he walked out on the Clark Fork River Bridge.
“Driving alone in the dark around midnight and deeply depressed, I parked my car with everything I owned inside it and headed to the center of the bridge. I had no fear of God and no relationship with Him either. I actually blamed Him and cursed Him for everything wrong in my life. I asked myself, What's worth living for? Then I simply decided my life was meaningless. I don't have any reason to be here. It's time to go.
“I stuck my hands through the back of my belt so that swimming was impossible and calmly stepped off into the blackness of night. I splashed into shockingly cold water, which swirled over my head and swept my body along in the swift current. I was choking under the surface when I felt a powerful, enormous hand cup my entire body in the palm. I could clearly distinguish a thumb and fingers wrapped around me. This mighty hand lifted me out of mid-river and gently set me down about twelve feet from the water's edge.
“I definitely did not swim out. Sitting on dry ground, I found my hands still inside the back of my belt.
“I sat there completely astonished. Someone must have seen my plunge, because red and blue flashing lights appeared and police officers approached, asking questions.
“I tried to explain what had happened to me. The officers shined their flashlights along the water's edge. They could not find any footprints on the beach to indicate that I had walked up from the river. The ground all around me was dry. Of course they did not believe my story about the giant hand. They decided I was drunk or on drugs and hauled me to jail for the night. I sat there shivering, cold, and wet, but amazed.
“No matter what others said, I knew a spirit had lifted me from the water. The next day, I visited a priest. After some hours of conversation, he said, 'Son, you should feel blessed.' From that moment, I knew God had a purpose for my life. There was a reason to be here after all. I realized that life is worth living. I stopped drinking. Stopped doing drugs. Quit the bars.”
That momentous event happened in 1958. Today, Jim Stewart enjoys retirement in Highlandville, Missouri, with his wife, Kori. He delights in his children and grandchildren. He enjoys fishing and is an award-winning wood-carving artist whose work is displayed in various venues and museums. However, Jim did not arrive at this pleasant place easily:
“The Lord has saved my life five times. I've been clawed by bears three times, once gored by an elk, and once I fell from a fifty-foot high cliff with a two hundred pound buck on my back—surviving the fall without permanent injuries. When I was five, my mother closed a gash on my arm from wrist to elbow with a needle and black thread because she could not afford to take me to a doctor. The pain was excruciating; however, my arm healed remarkably well, leaving only a neat scar.
“I have never feared death. Instead, looking back on the up-and-down years of my colorful life, I have come to believe that it's not what you do in life for yourself but what you do when you're needed that matters. When you ask yourself, what's worth living for and what's worth dying for, that makes your decisions very simple.”
People who know Jim say he is very often needed.
And he's always there.
Some would say that Jim's do-for-others philosophy is the underlying factor for both the movie character George Bailey's wonderful life and also for his real life counterpart, Jim Stewart's.
Whether readers choose to believe his miraculous rescue story or not, it is clear that Jim found the answer to his question: What's worth living for?
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