“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” ~Neil Gaiman
I was 13 when I first began to understand suicide.
A boy my age at a neighboring school had committed suicide and it affected me deeply. Not because we were friends. At best, we were mild acquaintances because we had mutual friends. We knew each other, but that was as far as our relationship went.
However, in the moment I learned of his death, something inside me changed because of a boy I barely knew. Someone else felt what I felt. Someone else understood the struggle. Someone else made real every thought I had about suicide. In that moment, I wished I had known him better.
I’d like to say it woke me up to what a gift life was, but it didn’t. If anything, I became even more obsessed with death, but at least it came with a better understanding of the impact of suicide. It didn’t stop the thoughts, but it did serve as a tragic reminder for me that as much as I wanted my pain to stop, I also wanted more from life than 13 short years.
I was 13 when I realized I wasn’t alone.
There is, of course, more to this story, but for now, let’s just say that was the moment I began to understand I was actually on a journey. A very long journey.
[This was a sermon I did at church I think last spring sometime. It was while writing this that I actually came across the book called Prodigal God by Timothy Keller, but I just got around to reading it last month. It’s a really good book–definitely worth a read. At any rate, it was good to see I wasn’t totally off track with my thinking here either.]
When I was about 11 years old I decided to run away from home. See, I just had this terrible life. My parents had the nerve to make me do chores like wash the dishes. I had to share my video games with my little brother. But the worst offense, the one that pushed me over was that was I had to go on vacation every summer to Florida for one whole month! Can you imagine how terrible that would be? Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Key West, Everglades, Daytona Beach, Miami. It was terrible. The only people I had to talk to for an entire month was my family! I got pretty good at making new friends quickly, but it was just torture. And of course, as fair skinned as I am, I’d always burn the first day of vacation, peel and then look like a freak the remainder of the trip.
So that was it. I had enough and I set off on a hot July day to leave home. I packed up some clothes and money and headed down the road. I made it about as far as the others side of the gate from my house…after all, it was pretty hot out, and I’ve already told you–I burn easily. I decided I could probably tolerate life with my family a little longer. [Read more…]
“Death is terrifying because it is so ordinary. It happens all the time.” -Susan Cheever
If I had read this quote a year ago, or even six months ago, it would not have made sense to me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the thought of death has always been scary, but death itself had never been real. It was like the boogey-man. The thought of one is scary, but knowing that he’s not real makes it less scary. That’s what death was like for me–not real (mostly), and definitely not ordinary.
But I’ve learned that it is. I don’t know if I’ve just experienced it more in the past year, or if I’m just more aware and sensitive to it, but death is very real and very ordinary. I don’t like it. I suppose no one likes it.
I just feel like until this past year, I’ve been sheltered from it. Sure, I’ve lost a few people I knew and some great-grandparents that I was close with. Yes, those times sucked and made me sad. But those times, mostly, were expected. I was prepared mentally to deal with it.
I also never thought much about heaven until my mom died. That may sound weird for a Christian, but I just figured I’d get there when I get there and God would have it all worked out. I figured it would be this wonderful place, but for the most part, life on earth was pretty wonderful too. I didn’t care about the details and was in no hurry to get there. Then suddenly, after mom died, I felt this deep longing to be there. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to die to be there, but all of a sudden the urgency of being there with her seemed much greater. Life on earth didn’t seem all that pressing or all that wonderful and I was ready for Jesus to pop back down and take us away.
I still haven’t figured out how someone is supposed to deal with death. I can’t imagine the pain ever going away. Part of me doesn’t want it to go away. But it does give you this unique experience, particularly with a parent, I’d imagine with a child also, that you don’t have with anyone except someone who has gone through it. A number of people I know have lost parents this year. My co-worker just lost both parents in a matter of weeks of each other. What I have now is this unique knowledge that I actually know kind of how they are feeling, in a general sense, not specifically. It’s a feeling I’ve never really been able to compare to anything else. It’s this missing piece inside and knowledge that there is absolutely nothing I can say that is going to help. You say it anyway, but you know it’s not comforting. And every single time it’s happened since my own mother passed (and it’s been frequent), I get that same punch in the stomach that I did when the doctors said, “I’m sorry for your loss.” I imagine that person getting that same punch.
So, ordinary? Perhaps.
Terrifying? Yes–more than the boogey man.