By: Billy & Joanne Schneider
If you would like to watch Billy share on video, you can do so by clicking on the following links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
The view from the top may have been terrific, but I wasn’t paying attention to the sunrise on the horizon, the water swirling below, or the amazing city spread out as far as the eye could see. I was instead focused on the snarled traffic, the police cars, and especially, the beat cop who was climbing up after me.
I did not scale to the top of the George Washington Bridge for the view. My sights were set on something entirely different – I wanted to be heard. And for me, at that time, the only way I thought I could be heard was to be seen.
The date was March 11, 1977. For me, the dawn of this beautiful spring morning meant the end of a long night of shooting cocaine. Although my drug of choice was heroin, I had been using cocaine as well since the mid-1970’s, often combining them. The effect of both together was called “speedballing.” For the past five years, I had been on the Methadone program, a federally funded program through which heroin addicts could get their drug free of charge in synthetic form, called Methadone.
Although I was married, my wife Linda and I were separated, and I was living in a rooming house with a girl name Terri. Eventually Linda and Terri became good friends. The bond between them was me. They both loved me. With the Hippie era still in full swing, people seemed to accept anything. “Peace” and “love” were words to live by in the 1960s and 1970s. “Everything is beautiful” and communal living were a part of the times.
There was desperation about me. The world in which I lived seemed aimless. Reality and truth were sought in the panacea of drugs and “free love.”
On this morning, I was up for talking. I was alone with Terri, but she was exhausted. “Please, Billy, get some sleep,” she pleaded with me. Because of the cocaine in my system, I was not ready for sleep. Drumming through my mind was the need to be heard. But who was there to listen? Even my best friend Terri was sleeping, copping out on me. Feelings of desperation were overwhelming me. I thought of how cruel life was, and how frustrating.
Deep inside, I truly wanted to be free of drugs and welfare. Each time I was released from prison, I vowed to stay drug free. But each time, I was right back into the drug scene, usually within hours. The Methadone program was not freeing me from the bondage of drugs, as I had hoped. Rather, I was maintaining my habit with free drugs, and along with free drugs came free medical care and welfare. My counselor at the Methadone program was compounding the problem by selling me cocaine. He was supplying it to me more cheaply that I could get it on the streets. He was no help. About three months earlier, I had been attacked at the program by a security guard. I felt the guard was a militant who did not like me. He had thrown me against a wall, and I had hit a radiator pipe and broken several ribs. I had been in pain for weeks, with ribs taped, sleeping on the floor and nursing bitterness toward the guard. The government’s way out for a heroin addict was no way out at all. It was just another trap.
I thought of my friends caught in similar situations, many of whom were minorities, Hispanic or African-American, and who could not speak for themselves in a way that would be heard. I felt compassion for them and wanted them to be helped as well.
Now out of cocaine, but my mind racing, I wrote several poems, one of them called “The Bridge,” in an attempt to figure out what actually ties everything together. “I need someone to hear me, hear my poem, hear me cry!” I wept. I was bombarded by thoughts. Cocaine is a “why?” drug, opening the mind to questions for which there are no human answers. I began asking questions of God, but received no answer. Even God must be asleep, like Terri and everyone else. I’ve got to wake up God, I thought, and tell Him how messed up He is. With that thought, a plan began taking shape in my mind: if I climbed to the top of the George Washington Bridge, maybe I would be heard. Would God listen to me there?
The thought spurred me to action. I got up and dressed, walking out the door with my leather jacket and backwards baseball cap. Terri never woke up, which was unusual – she generally had a built-in antenna for me. It was 6:30 a.m. I wrote a note – who I was, what I was going through, my problems with the Methadone program, the trap it was, the cocaine, the security guard, ending with these words: “My friends are all trapped. Don’t you hear me, God? My friends are all trapped. They’re cattle on their way to slaughter. Let’s find out who cares. I’ll show you how much I care. People gotta listen! But how’s that gonna happen? Everybody’s asleep!”
With note in hand, I walked to the George Washington Bridge, about eight blocks away. Arriving at For Washington Avenue and 179th Street, I looked at the enormity of the bridge. I wasn’t sure how I’d do it, but Billy Schneider was determined to make it to the pinnacle. I thought of climbing the expansion cables, but when I got close, I could see how huge they were and realized they were both too wide and too steep to safely scale. I couldn’t make it this way.
I came to the Northeast Tower and decided this was the way to go. I would climb the criss-crossed metal girders. Just as I made this decision, I saw three boys approaching. I also saw a New York City police officer drive onto the bridge and position himself towards oncoming traffic, ready to direct in the morning rush hour. The officer was, of course, blissfully unaware of the twist his day soon would take.
Dropping the note, I began to climb, yelling to the boys as I started up, “Pick up the note and take it to the police!” It was a perfect setup. I would be immediately noticed, the note would be read. Someone would finally listen to me. The boys seemed terrified at first, not sure what I wanted, or if I might harm them. Then, realizing that something was out of the ordinary, and that I was not intent on hurting them, they caught something of the excitement of the moment. I could see that they understood what it was I wanted. I saw them pick up the note, handling it as though it was a letter bomb, and run with it to the officer, who was now standing beside his car. I saw the officer tear open the envelope, read the note, look up to see me, then jump into his car. I heard a siren begin to wail, slowing traffic. Now it was as though I was watching a movie, something outside myself, the drama unfolding before my eyes.
Soon I could hear sirens coming from all directions. As I continued to climb, I could see police cars coming from everywhere. It was the first time in my life that I could see the police coming. Before, they always had caught me by surprise.
For me there was no turning back. It was like a chess game for me. I simply would outsmart whoever might try to stop me until I was heard. Whatever I might have thought as I started from home toward the bridge, this was now serious business. I watched as the New Jersey police were notified and began converging. Traffic still moved, slowing as curiosity seekers stopped, looking up. Then, suddenly, traffic stooped completely. Why, I wondered? It was not until later that I understood that had I jumped or fallen, I could have caused serious injuries to a lot of innocent persons, and it was a responsibility of the police to avoid this if at all possible.
I heard the tower elevator start. It was a locked elevator, used only by the Port Authority. A few police officers began to climb up the tower the same way I was climbing. The first officer on the scene, the one who took the note, was the one who had first arrested me, back in 1965, for stealing a car. He also was the first to begin climbing after me. He had treated me shabbily in the past. Now he treated me like a kid.
“You freaking idiot, get down!” he roared. I was angry, but I was also completely in control, and determined to confuse Frank, the neighborhood beat cop. My experience as a roofer made it easy for me to shake Frank. Just by talking to Frank as he climbed, I made Frank look up at me, then down to the ground. I knew never to do that when climbing heights. Seeing that the trick was working gave me a sense of power, and I did something I now regret. I urinated on Frank, yelling and swearing, “Get that ______cop away from me!”
The sergeant on the ground, seeing my agitation, ordered Frank off the bridge. “You’re just riling him!” He knew that doing so could only increase the danger of the situation they all were facing. What I might do next could not be predicted.
After about 45 minutes of climbing, I arrive at the top of the bridge, 650 feet above the water. Just above me were the tower’s red warning lights. I sat down on the highest girder. I heard someone in the elevator, just slightly below where I was sitting. They asked what religion I was. “Catholic” I responded. I heard the elevator go down.
I sat alone on top of the bridge, thoughts and questions racing through my mind. Was someone going to return? Would they listen to me? Would they see to it that I got the help that I so desperately needed? I looked down at the water, wondering what actually happens to the body when it hits from such a height. Could I make a perfect dive and hit the water without making a splash, or would I twist and tumble and be driven away by the wind, smashing into rocks below? As I looked down, police boats plied the waters, anticipating the jump of a man they knew nothing about. Would I be just another leaper, driven to suicide through the snare of drugs, and later identified as William Charles Schneider, age 27, son of William Frederick Schneider and Helen Kern?
The crowd began to grow, onlookers below, people on rooftops, not wanting to miss the drama of the moment. I actually grew a bit bored sitting alone up on the bridge, looking out over the Palisades and the New York City skyline. As a bone for the crowd, I took of my baseball cap and sent it sailing. This was Billy Schneider’s moment, time was essential, and I didn’t want to lose the attention of the crowd. The cap fluttering down; who knew what might come next?
Twenty minutes later the elevator door opened again. Inside was a Catholic priest. He talked with me about my value, who I was, why I shouldn’t jump. Finally I asked him, “Why have you never mentioned God?”
“Sometimes you don’t have to mention God, but He’s there.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asked. The priest explained that he had been in his car on the way to a seminar, when the traffic stopped. Moments later he spotted a police officer and asked if he could be of some help. The officer replied, “You sure could. There’s a guy up on the bridge who says he’s Catholic.” They agreed I might want the last rites before I jumped to my death. What they didn’t understand is that I didn’t want last rites, I wanted first rights – the right to freedom of speech, the right to be heard.
“Father, I don’t want to jump! I want help. I’m trapped. I’ve got no peace. I’m tired of drugs.” I told the priest of my frustration with heroin, with cocaine, with the Methadone program, of the need to be heard, of my friends who also were not being heard. I pleaded, “I’m not crazy! I don’t need a psych ward. I need a different life!”
The priest promised he wouldn’t let me be put in a mental institution. A rehab program in New Jersey was mentioned.
I agreed to come down only if the priest could get Terri to witness what the plan would be. “Who’s Terri?” the priest asked. I explained and the priest agreed. I gave the clergyman her address, and again I was left alone at the top as the priest descended in the elevator.
I watched as the priest spoke with the policeman. I heard the sirens wail again, saw a police car cross the bridge into New Jersey, turn around, come back into New York. I saw every turn the car made on its route to the rooming house eight blocks away.
Later I learned they woke Terri up. She was absolutely frantic, thinking I must be dead. But no. Today, I was at the top of the George Washington Bridge.
Terri was brought up in the elevator, and she looked sadly at me, tears in her eyes. She felt so guilty for going to sleep at a time I desperately need her. I asked the priest to make promises to me in Terri’s presence, which he did – absolutely no mental institution. “I’m not crazy,” I said. “I just need help!”
The priest repeated his vow: “I won’t let them put you in a mental institution. I’ll see to it that you get help with your drug problem.” At last, I placed my trust in the priest and worked my way down into the elevator.
In the elevator, however, I was immediately handcuffed, hands behind my back. Shackled, I was brought down before the crowd of onlookers, the police commissioner, news reporters, photographers.
I was placed into the back of the nearest police car along with Terri. In the front seat of the cruiser was Frank! The police commissioner learned into the front wind and said, “Frank, direct! Once I was “safely” inside, my fate still unknown to me, the officials, reporters, police boats, and helicopters all began moving away. After five and one half hours, traffic began moving across the bridge. Life was back to New York’s normal hustle and bustle.
Inside the police car, Frank, a “peon” as I called him, immediately began threatening and taunting me. “Wait ‘til we get away from the crowd, you little _________!” Frank reached into the back of the car and grabbed me by the collar, jerking me up, and began slapping me in the face. Terri began to cry, “Please, don’t hurt him!” At this, the car screeched to a halt and the driver, a sergeant, gave Frank a curt order. “Take your ______ hands off him! You hit him again and I’ll shoot you!”
You’ve been reading Chapter 1 of Billy & Joanne Schneider’s book, GO AHEAD, JUMP! By the end of the book, Billy connects with God and by so doing, a brand new glorious life for him begins. If you want to obtain a copy of this powerful and touching book , you can do so by clicking on the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Go-Ahead-Jump-Story-Schneider/dp/1555682081
Precious Testimonies Staff Comments:
The drug problem in America is not going to go away. Rather - it is only going to continue to worsen. This book could keep a lot of troubled youth from turning into troubled adults ... if they could only have a copy of this book handed to them.
Billy's book will hold you spell-bound, I assure you. By the time you reach the end ... you'll wish you had many more chapters left to read! Some testimonies are just too precious to share in condensed form such as we publish on our Precious Testimonies website ... hence his book was necessary. This book should be given to every student by the time they are a freshman in high school, not to mention every drug addict who feels like hope is just about to run out, or that no one understands their heartaches. The Jesus that understood Billy's heartaches and set him free from addiction is the same Jesus who understands your teenagers heartaches and frustration, and desires to DO something about it.
Parents - if you want to buy a Christmas gift, birthday gift, graduation gift, unexpected blessing gift ... buy your teenager a copy of this book. It might well be the most valuable gift you could ever give him or her.
-- Norm Rasmussen, Director
"Ask the animals, and they will teach you . . ." (Job 12:7 NIV).
He came to us on a hot Sunday evening, an apparition in the shape of a dog, a nearly unrecognizable Chow. His hair was dirty, matted and thick, his stench unbearable.
He attracted my attention because he stood in the street, unmindedful that he was impeding traffic. He moved slowly and aimlessly, with great difficulty.
"Billy! Look at this animal!" Billy came out to the street to see what I was talking about. He didn't have to stop and think about what to do. He just went right into the road to bring the dog to safety. There was a short chain attached to his filthy collar. Billy took the chain and led him off the street. We thought he might have been scrounging garbage cans for food, but a closer look suggested he likely did not have the energy to do even this.
What were we do do with him? He appeared old, looked sick, and was most certainly homeless. The situation looked hopeless. The humane thing would be to put this animal out of his misery. That certainly was our first thought. Of what value was he, anyway? But let's feed him first, okay? We gave him a pan of water and some dog food, and to our surprise he drank and ate all of it.
We searched the phone book for a local humane society or animal shelter. We found the number for an animal hospital, but could get no further than the answering service. We tried the police department, but they had no one who could pick up the dog until morning. Belton, South Carolina, was not well equipped for an emergency of this nature. And neither were we.
By this time it was dark. There wasn't much more we could do. Billy, with his tender heart, did not want to send the dog off to be destroyed, so we prayed that the beast would wander away so that someone else could deal with him.
When sleep came at last, both Billy and I had dreams about mangy dogs. In the morning we breathed a sigh of relief when we did not find him in our yard, each of us for different reasons: Billy could not bear to send him off on his final journey; I feared he might stay right where he was - in our yard. Frankly, I didn't want anything to do with him. We certainly didn't need another problem, another thing to take up our time.
I went off to work and nearly forgot about him. He was gone, his wretched hair out of ours. Thank you, Lord. At least we were kind to this creature of yours, weren't we? But as I drove home, the image of the forlorn dog returned to mind.
To my dismay, as I came into the driveway, who should slowly follow my car but The Creature!
"Oh, no!" I cried to Billy. "What will we do with the pathetic animal now?"
"It's ironic you should call him pathetic," Billy responded. "He was hanging out here and in the neighbor's yard when I got home this afternoon. I began calling him Edderic Patheteric. You know, 'Oh, Edderic Patheteric I am, I am ...'" He sang a little ditty.
I couldn't help laughing. As much as I didn't want to deal with this creature, I knew that nothing happens to us by chance. Had he not been given life by God? Then we must respect this life. And are we not given dominion over the animals? If so, then we are responsible for the condition of those God places in our care. Had God directed him into our yard so that we could show him mercy? What a picture he was of our human condition before God. What mercy God has showed us! With that in mind, how could I say no when Billy insisted we do something to help improve this mutt's condition?
So Monday evening, we donned gloves, found scissors, and began snipping away at the thick matting. As the hair fell, the odor rose. But we persisted. Amazingly, Eddie, as we soon dubbed him, never resisted. We were able to remove only a tiny bit at a time, his fur was so thick and so caked with mud. "Eddie, if only you could talk!" I said to him. "How on earth did you end up in this dreadful shape?" We decided he must have been tied to his very short chain for a very long while. We had many questions that Eddie couldn't answer. So we just had to be content to help him, regardless of how he came to be this way. We thought about the abused people around us, who, like Eddie, may not be able to explain fully just how they came to be in their condition.
After an hour or two of hard work and a garbage bag half full of globs of gunk, we finally began to see a bit of skin. We tried an electric clipper, shaving a swath of bristly hair from his backbone. Now we could see he was little more than skin and bones, not the fat thing we earlier presumed him to be.
In the morning, I began calling for help. The local pet groomer didn't do Chows, explaining that they can be temperamental and vicious. We saw none of this in Eddie. Late in the day, we located a vet who would see him. Billy wrapped Eddie in a towel and he and a friend took Eddie in the car. As they sat waiting, who should walk in but a well-groomed lady with her well-groomed poodle, ribbons and all. The humor of the situation almost overtook Billy as everyone except Billy, Jerry and six-year-old Amber moved as far as possible from pathetic, smelly Eddie. The vet pronounced Eddie about six years old, no fleas or parasite (not even a flea wanted to take up residence with Eddie!). He did, however, have heartworm and a severe infestation of ear mites. The doctor told us he was walking poorly because his extremely matted hair was cutting off circulation.
Well, with a $60 vet bill invested, it looked like Eddie was a keeper. We put him in the bathtub later that night, and Eddie just soaked quietly, his cute little face above water, looking like a baby seal. He protested nothing, allowing us to cut and brush and pull away at the mats. The water was red as the South Carolina clay when we were finished.
And, yes, he was cute! His curl of a tail began to wag a bit as we talked to him. He was now walking better, even trying to play basketball with the boys. The job was nowhere near finished, but Eddie was becoming more cheerful and content - like, well, a pet.
As I write this, Eddie is playing in the back yard, happy to be with us. He is beginning to bark - a muted, hoarse sort of bark. He looks a little strange with a bald spot on his back, and the rest of his hair now clipped short. But his trimmed tail bounces all over his back when he hears us. He and Billy are "bonding," with Billy pleased to receive "doggy kisses" from him. I'm a bit more wary of Eddie, but I offered him a bit of food the other day, which he took from my hand. I could feel his powerful Chow jaw on my finger, but he took care not to hurt me. We are building trust. In fact, I believe Eddie trusts me more than I trust him, and I feel a bit unworthy of that.
So, Edderic, you have taught us some valuable lessons. You have provided a great illustration with which to begin Billy's story. As others looked at Billy, many of them turned away like the poodle lady in the vet's office. It seems that the more groomed we become as Christians the more we tend to shun the smell and filth associated with "sinners." We fail to see that they have been chained by the devil himself. And don't we have the cure for their disease? To our shame, the lost of the world can seem more caring than some Christians. We might say that they have nothing to lose. But if we are Christians we have everything they could gain.
Some, like me, offer the excuse that we are just too busy to bother. An interruption is an annoyance rather than an opportunity. But what would we have missed had we followed my desire, or lack of it?
I found that I could avoid becoming smelly and filthy like Eddie by wearing gloves and showering. In order to clean Eddie, I did not have to become like him. I could go to him, touch him, wash him, yet not adopt his ways. It helps me understand that I can go into the world, armed with the cleansing water of the Word, and touch the human conditions caused by sin without falling into sin myself.
Others responded to Billy as the pet groomer did - keeping a distance from him for fear of his "bite." But just as Eddie responded to our touch with gratefulness and a wagging tail, so we may be surprised by the response of one with whom we may at first glance fear to share the gospel. Could it be that they would respond to a touch of love and kindness, just as Eddie has?
And just as Billy's heart responded to Edderic Patheteric - a bit of life created by God, and in this condition not by his own choice, should we not see beyond the sin, beyond the stink of the human condition, and into the reality that wherever there is life, no matter how wretched, there is hope? There is God, the creator of life. And doesn't He tell us that even our human goodness is filthy before Him? Of course we are not too clean to reach out.
As Eddie shows gratitude to us for taking him into our family, so also Billy feels a deep sense of thankfulness and gratitude to the person who saw beyond the exterior and into his soul, and who, over the years, "hounded" him with Jesus - the Jesus who, with one touch, can transform the lives of many from "Patheteric" to positive, from wretched to righteous.
Yes, Eddie offers a great opening for Billy's story. Billy does not mind being compared to him. The more one understands the wretchedness of his own human condition, the more one appreciates the great and mighty things God has done for him, and how He has had mercy on him. And as Eddie might cry if he could, "Why me?" so Billy cried, "Why me?" many times in his life. Why am I being abused? Why am I such a mess? Why do I hurt so? Why does no one hear me? And later, Why me, Jesus?Why did you rescue me and change me and give me joy and reason to praise You daily? Yes, Lord, why me?
Billy's story is powerful. It is a story of deep pain, of great sin, of hopelessness, of incredible transformation, of tremendous joy and hope, of love and of humor. What Eddie cannot say, Billy can. It is a story of the amazing grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, whose love is deeper than the pain, greater than the sin. Billy's story is, after all, the story of Jesus Christ, who reached into the stench and filth of Billy's life to pull out a jewel of great beauty, priceless to Himself and now to many others.
You’ve been reading Chapter 1 of Billy & Joanne Schneider’s book, GO AHEAD, JUMP! If you want to obtain a copy of this powerful book , you can do so by clicking on the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Go-Ahead-Jump-Story-Schneider/dp/1555682081
GO AHEAD, JUMP!
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Dear Reader - are you at peace with God? If not, you can be. Do you know what awaits you when you die? You can have the assurance from God that heaven will be your home, if you would like to be certain. Either Jesus Christ died for your sins, or He didn't (He did!). Are you prepared to stand before God on the Judgment Day and tell Him that you didn't need the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross to have your sins forgiven and get in right-standing with God? We plead with you ... please don't make such a tragic mistake.
To get to know God; to be at peace with God; to have your sins forgiven; to make certain heaven will be your home for eternity; to make certain that you are in right-standing with God right now ... please click here to help understand the importance of being reconciled to God. What you do about being reconciled to God will determine where you will spend eternity, precious one. Your decision to be reconciled to God is the most important decision you'll ever make in this life.
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