So, somehow, some way, I managed to let an entire year pass between this post and my last. And truthfully, I’m happy about it. There have been plenty of topics I wanted to write about, but for whatever reason, I felt something (or Someone) clamping down on me. Maybe this post will be the start of a string of a few more, or maybe it won’t. All I know is, right now, something needs to be said.
Two weeks ago, someone I knew killed herself. Since not everyone she knew has yet been told the news, I’ve been asked to withhold her name. I’ll call her “Lisa.” She was a young, accomplished, professional woman whose heart led her to work with young adults. She had a loving network of friends and a life that fulfilled her soul. Indeed, before the chain of events that brought her to end her life, she was just like many of the people you and I know. Even as her mind slipped into darkness, she only made her despair known to a select few people. They were the ones who made every effort to stay in her life. As far as the rest of her friends, she had them fooled.
This post is more for me than anyone else reading this. As far as I’m concerned, nobody more than me needs to take some lessons from Lisa’s death.
I met her one December night, when I stopped by a Rutgers student center to visit one of her youth meetings. She told me a bit about her story and her background. I shared with her an idea about a guy I knew (named Jon) who might have benefited from talking to her. I remember how willing she was to meet with Jon, even though she was probably already swamped with work. I remember how her friend was ushering her on to leave, since I think they had somewhere to go. Even though we both had so much to talk about, I said good-bye and of course, was sure to get her first and last name so I could find her on facebook. I don’t remember what exactly were the last words I ever said to her, but those were probably it. I never saw her again after that.
I never followed up with her over facebook–neither about Jon, or even just to ask how she was. As interesting as she was to me back when we met, I was still far too engrossed in my favorite subject–myself–to take the time to form any genuine connection between the two of us. I can’t be honest with myself and say that I had no room in my life for someone like her. I had the time back then, and I have the time now–but I still fail miserably at reaching out past the white picket fence that encircles my life. It’s one that I’ve had the luxury of building around myself for a while–now that I feel I have enough friends, a good life, and more people who care about me than I know what to do with. By the world’s standards, I’ve reached the goals I’d set out to achieve years ago. Now all that’s left for me to do is not drop the ball.
No longer do I need to curry favor with all sorts of people just to “build my network,” and cultivate an image of “put-togetherness” that’ll follow me around. If staying genuinely involved in someone’s life doesn’t give me something I need, well, it’s not a big deal if I just post on their wall every once in a while. Did I think Lisa had a lot to offer me? Would I have gotten much out of putting Jon in touch with her so he could have some mentorship? I guess as I surfed facebook and went through my emails, deciding who I’d respond to, neither of them made the cut in my mind. And I’m sorry.
Could I have done anything to help Lisa? I’ll never know. But I know that as far as efforts go, mine can be comfortably nestled under the category of “Failure.” How many other people have been brought into my life, only for me to put up one hand as I scrolled down some dumb internet article with the other?
I’m so much more comfortable with simply saying, “Hey, I can’t really talk much right now, but ya know what? Lemme find you on facebook and we’ll stay in touch there.” Or when friends ask to talk, how often do I just basically tell them to buzz off, that I’m “swamped with work” and that I’ll definitely call as soon as I can, and yes, I miss them too. That’s essentially my default response to most people who consider me a friend.
I remember those awkward years back in high school when my heart would leap at any measure of friendliness–any at all–from another human being. How far have I fallen? How far out of my ability does a genuine concern for the hearts of others seem right now? I used to spend hours upon hours chatting over AIM to random people I “met” over the internet. I loved listening to all their teenage angst. I also loved the fact that we’d never meet–and I’d be spared the embarrassment of tripping over my words, stuttering, or giggling awkwardly at things that weren’t funny. All I knew was that while that AIM chat window was open, I felt I was somebody. Even if for them, I was little more than a screenname.
These days however, it’s no surprise I rarely use instant messaging. In fact, when I do, I automatically shift myself to “invisible” just so I can see if there’s anyone I feel like talking to, while conveniently shutting everyone else out.
Often, after a day that I can declare was a “tough one,” I feel totally entitled to self-medication–either through friends who will reliably entertain me or boost my ego, articles that will interest me, or hours spent in the gym or in front of the TV. I’m awesome at rationalizing all this self-promoting behavior too. I always tell myself that everything I do will one day make me a more knowledgeable, well-rounded person. Why? So I can better help and relate to others of course!
Ultimately though, that means every day becomes a “tough day” and everything that tickles my fancy can be twisted into something positive for the world as a whole–at least in my mind. And all of a sudden, whaddya know? I’m entitled to as much as I damn well please. And don’t nobody dare tell me I’m selfish. I work at addiction clinic, for God’s sake. All I do is help kids there. And now I’m back in school. I’ve got way more important things to do, and everyone else just needs to get over themselves for the next four years. When I’m ready to deal with you again, I’ll let you know.
I guess after all this, it’s no surprise that probably not much more than 10% of my facebook friends will bother to wish me a happy birthday. And why should they? What have I done in the 23 years the Lord’s given me on this earth to give them any reason to post on my wall? After over two decades, what’s the world gotten from me?
I’ve spent the better part of the last four years dipping in and out of people’s lives, doing just enough to maintain a semblance of friendship to the point where if I ever needed to pull a favor from a person, they’d consider me enough of a friend to help me out. I can do better.
Maybe we all could do a little better.
I know people whose hearts ache for a genuine human connection. I know people whose precious lives I’ve left behind in my singular ambition to promote my own.
Lisa, had you not died the way you did, I would not have come to realize all that I have these last few days. With your life’s example and the Lord holding me accountable, maybe these realizations might bear some fruit in my life and relationships.
And Mona, thanks for living a beautiful life of constant example in all you do. Thanks for being Lisa’s closest friend, filling in where I failed, for telling me her story, revealing her heart, and encouraging me to write this.
Readers, feel free to post–anonymously or otherwise–any confessions you’d like to make public about ways you feel you’ve fallen short in reaching out to others. How can I do better? How can we as a culture do better? Why is it, that in a time where technology is “connecting” us in ways never before imagined, are feelings of isolation so prevalent today, perhaps even more-so than in the past?
And as always thanks for your friendship–on my birthday and on every other day, too.