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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reach Out

"I am mortal," Scrooge remonstrated, "and liable to fall."

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, 1843

We are all only humans. As such, we can be incredibly strong and resilient, but we can also be frail. I'm not just referring to our bodies; our minds or spirits or psyches are also simply mortal. Our emotions can rise incredibly high and sink equally low. 

I'm very saddened when I hear of people of various walks of life committing suicide, and it seems that I am hearing about it more frequently recently. As a society, we all seem to be touched when we hear that someone has come to a point in their being when dying seems less painful than living. We have different responses to the situation. Some of us feel sorrow, some feel anger; there are numerous thoughts and feelings awakened within us. Many of us try to understand why the person in question made that final decision. We might look at the life of one person and say that we can understand the desolation and anguish of their experience. After all, we think, they had nothing but struggles, financially, emotionally, and in every other way. Then we hear of another death and think to ourselves that this person had everything to live for; they had wealth, fame, steady work, and were well-loved.

But how well do we really know another's emotions and struggles? Do we have a right to judge what we cannot comprehend? There are many among us, me included, who live with depression or other issues. There are pains, both emotional and physical, that others may not see, things that are kept well hidden. When I hear about someone who has chosen death to escape their pain, I remember when I was seven years old, with a mother who was dead, and a father in prison for killing her. And I remember lying in my bed at night, praying to die before morning. The pain of all that I was going through was, I thought, more than I could bear. I am still here, probably because I was a child, and knew nothing more than hoping for death, and not how to bring it about. I hope that you don't think that I'm sharing this with you to garner your sympathy, because I'm not. It's just my way of telling you that anyone can hit the point of feeling that there's no use in sticking around until tomorrow.  

Part of me wonders if people make these irrevocable decisions because they feel alone. Amazing to think of in this age of instant communication, isn't it? We may find it easier to contact one another with our cell phones and online chatting and video communications, but I am starting to think that at the same time that it makes us easier to reach, it also drives us apart. Conversations that used to take part face-to-face, or even over the phone, have been replaced with brief text communications. The words are still there, but the tone of voice is not heard. We can't hear the flat, depressed sound of someone's voice through a text or an email. The words on a screen may say someone is fine, and nobody can tell the difference. 

So what it boils down to for me is this - reach out. If you are feeling desolate, reach out to someone, anyone, and tell them you need someone to talk to for a few minutes. It could be a friend, a stranger with a kind face, a clergy person, the checkout clerk at your grocery store. You may feel alone, but you may find someone with a big heart that is there to help you. There are people who want not just to laugh with you, but to dry your tears as well.

If you see someone that you think needs help, please reach out. It may be a friend, or it may be a complete stranger. I know that sometimes we might know someone is struggling and we're afraid to say something to them. Let me say this - you may be hesitant to say something to a friend that you think is suicidal because they might get angry with you. What if they quit speaking with you? I can guarantee you this - if they are dead, they will not be speaking with you. Wouldn't you rather have them not talking to you because they are angry or embarrassed rather than because they are gone from this world?

As far as reaching out to strangers, what could it hurt? Maybe you got the wrong signal from them. Big deal. They are briefly passing through your life. I am familiar with being afraid to speak with strangers. I deal with depression, anxiety, and a few other things, on a daily basis. It's not easy for me to put myself out there. Because of Trent's surgeries and other health challenges, I've spent a lot of time in various parts of hospitals. And on more than one occasion, I've gone up to a complete stranger and asked them if they needed someone to talk to for a few minutes. I have never had a single one of these people get angry with me. I have had them, however, heave a sigh of relief at being able to let go of trying to be strong for a few minutes. They have told me that they have a spouse in surgery who doesn't know his mother died this morning. They have said that they are the only one who is able to be here for Dad while he is dying, and that they have been overwhelmed with sorrow and worrying about losing their job. They have called me an angel for giving them the gift of listening to them for a few minutes while they vent or cry and share their burdens.

We never really know what an impact we can have on others. Just saying a kind word or listening to someone for a few minutes can make a huge difference to them. You could become someone's hero just by reaching out when they feel alone. You don't have to be a doctor or a soldier or a superhero. All you need to do is be you. You never know when you might be the one ray of light that can save someone's day...or maybe even their life.