What happened at our local high school yesterday impacted us all in ways we dare not speak. A young boy took his life by shooting himself in the midst of his American Sign Language class. We’ve heard this story before, the details rearranged. We’ve heard this story too many times.
With a legacy of suicide three generations deep, not a day goes by that I don’t consider how I might protect my children from this fate. I have researched analyzed, worried, catastrophized and then balled up my fists in defiance. I will out-smart, out-supplement, out- therapize the dark magic that is suicide. I do this so I can sleep at night. I do this in search of some guarantee that it will not be us. Not my children. But it’s always someone’s child.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran,
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls. For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.”
I say again dark magic. There is something about suicide that at once intrigues and repels us. We want to know details as small as the breakfast consumed prior or the book read the previous evening. We suddenly want to know him. However, the despair and anger left in suicide’s wake make those not touched directly tread very lightly. We offer condolences, speak of compassion and sadness. We get angry. We take oaths. We will be kinder, more aware, more connected to those around us. We read, gathering details to garner the illusion that we have some control over this erratic, heart-breaking and beautiful life. We make deals with universal laws we don’t understand and quietly pray, “please don’t let it happen to me.” We scrutinize parenting, bullying, school climate, values, video games and genetics. We seek patterns, and compartments. We box it, label it and offer it to the lab. And still, our children are taking their lives.
We dare not speak of bravery or sacrifice. Or even a call from beyond. But I ask you, what if the voices that call these beautiful people home are meant only for their ears? Voices medication can’t touch. Lives not meant to be lived past the moment they end. Can we accept this? Could I accept this if this boy was mine? What is our choice?
Many of us believe, however viscerally, that our fate is determined, in the end, by something we can’t explain or name. Yet with suicide, it seems many of us have decided that fate has been evaded, adamantly protested and denied. That our brother or sister has somehow duped God. I ask you how this is possible? For those who believe in a God or Gods of any sort. I ask you again, how this is possible? The Universe in all its glory has a hiccup? God/Science didn’t mean for us to have an eject button? Why then is this an option?
What occurred on Friday is beyond words. But it’s just that, beyond words. And we lose the boy, the family, the Unknowable in our trying to make it rational. This boy came to teach us something. And yes, that might be compassion and kindness. It could be a call to rethink gun laws or tighten school security. What I propose though is that, for now, we let go of what we might have done wrong, how we might have failed him, how we might or might not be serving our youth. These debates, it seems to me, fuel the illusion that we are somehow separate from and have power over circumstances such as this one. Separate from each other. Separate from the boy, his parents, lawmakers, republicans, democrats. And worse that there is someone to blame. Our ego fights for answers. Why? Why will it stop at nothing to protect us from the reality of our powerlessness. And what’s on the other side?
What if we were all to admit that we just don’t know? We don’t understand. That we’re scared. That each of us has considered however distantly acts of terrifying impact. That there is nothing in you that is not in me in some small way. This boy, this precious young boy, is a part of our own mystery. Every part of our being resists this idea. There is no beauty in self-destruction, we say. And self-destruction with witnesses. But if I were to ask his parents would not his beauty be all that is left? Can we let him be a window into what needs healing in our own souls?
We do not know where his impulse came from. We don’t. We can say we do, but we don’t. Chemical imbalance, sure. But when neurotransmitter boosting fails. Then what? We can speculate, formulate and triangulate. We can medicated, sedate and relocate. But what if instead we honor him as another teacher who walked the earth for a short time, a Light whose stay on earth was short. Honor him. Love him for exactly who he was. Love his parents for delivering him to us. Forgive him for the trauma he brought to our children. Trust that this will serve to fortify them. And trust that he brought what he was supposed to bring. What if?
What if we let ourselves off the hook? Let his parents off the hook? Let the school off the hook? Forgive ourselves and when we are ready, feel. Feel without fixing, feel without analyzing, feel without blame, feel without conditions.
To feel is to heal.
May we all send our love to his parents and the students who were with him. They shoulder the weight for us all.
by Kristin Tone