Sunday, April 17



It's a Wednesday, and I am in an Internet cafe far from my apartment and thousands of miles from home. My spot is along the right aisle, on the left hand side, three chairs from the front.

I pull out the chair and try to tune out the chaos of Naples. The train station a block away draws tens of thousands of people... and this cafe is different from the deep downtown where I spend my everyday.

I pull open my email and read.

The chaos doesn't die down. The people keep walking on the street. The ceiling fans still move, slowly churning the air in quiet circles. But, for a moment, my world stops. My heart catches in my throat, and I find myself crying.

A man who lived just across the street from my childhood home for years, who opened his home when his daughters invited me over to play Sonic, just committed suicide.

I don't know him well. They were divorced, she stayed in the house and remarried, and he moved away. I was little for many of the years he was there, and I don't know many people well. Regardless of the reasons, all the excuses that youth can give me are still excuses in my eyes.

Maybe if I had been a better kid... something different would have happened. I could have befriended his daughters better, known him better, been a better neighbor. I've been suicidal. I know what it feels to walk the line between life and death, and I've been closer to death far more times than I can count. And maybe I could have helped. 

I can't now. But maybe I can help the people left behind... who must be feeling pain and guilt far more than I feel.

I can't go to the funeral. I'm a missionary thousands of miles away, and yet I want to be there so much more than here. I write a short message to my family and the family across the street... and like that my time is up.


That wasn't the first time someone I knew had taken his life. It wasn't the last, either. Each time, I've felt like my heart was broken into pieces... and even today, 11 years after this flashback (have I really been writing that long?!?), the feelings are just as real. I know that as a little kid I likely had little impact on this man's life - that mental illness and other factors effected far more powerful influences than a 9-year-old would have been able to create - but I still wish I had been "better." I still wonder if I could have done something to help him stay alive.

Suicide seems to be far more common in the worlds my life intersects. People with bipolar seem far more likely to commit suicide than even those with depression. People with autism seem higher risk as well - especially those who want personal contact and can't make it happen. And it seems that being gay - and the isolation that can create regardless of moral and emotional support - makes suicide yet again more likely in those with concurrent mental conditions.

This post isn't about how to fix the problem. If there were a simple way to fix suicide, depression, mental illness, and loneliness, then we would have found it. Sometimes a random act of kindness can make a difference, and sometimes all the love in the world can't make it through. Medications are imperfect and have dramatic, soul-sucking side effects. Psychiatric and other interventions only sometimes work. Each person is unique, and each story different except for the underlying themes of inexplicable pain, isolation, and sadness.

I just want to remind myself that people are important... and that life is fragile. The people I meet, who come into my shop, who pass me on the street, my family and best friend and everyone else - they all live with real issues in their lives. Under the surface, they struggle with pain, sadness, and loneliness just as I do.

And hopefully I can be a better man to help them thrive - not just survive - another day.

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