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.

Lisa's Facebook profile picture

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.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

William S.

What’s in a day? That which we call a birthday, by any other name would still mean the same thing: the day when, as a red-faced, screaming bundle of pure nasty (and of course, joy), we entered this world. Some of us have become noticeably quieter now, while others find our oldest habits are usually the hardest to quit.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

Some of you might be wondering how my birthday just seemed to pop up out of nowhere.  That’s because it did—I just put it up on my profile just now so I could get you all to come to my profile and then click the link to this post. Thanks for being such willing subjects.

Thanks to Facebook, gone are the days when frienships depended on the Rolodex, the huge desk calendar, the “I just called to say hey”s, invitations on card, cards on birthday, and of course, that ol’ birthday phone call. But one thing hasn’t changed and that’s all the planning, the buying, and the gift-giving that close friends of the “birthday person” feel they just have to do. And if for some reason, such as the case of this lonely post-grad, the friends of the birthday person aren’t really around, well it all just clumps together into one dead skunk of guilt in the road. The stink sort of lingers around for a few days and eventually everyone in the neighborhood tries to just get used to it and go about their business. Eventually some self-starter just goes and shovels the dumb thing up and everyone just forgets about it…at least until the next Pepe Le Pew decides the grass looks greener—from the middle of the road. I didn’t want my birthday to be any such skunk.

Besides that, I honestly don’t see what the fuss should be about. For example, Michael Jackson’s birthday was yesterday. In spite of all the good he did, the makers of Propofol have gotten more free publicity than anything that could have been placed in the King Midas-styled dreams of those AstraZeneca execs. And that’s sad, especially when you consider all of what MJ did with large parts of his wealth. It was his demons that eventually destroyed him and that’s all we hear about now.

Now in seeming contrast we have Ted Kennedy, a man who drank heavily for years, built himself up a reputation as womanizer—and this was all after that time he fled the scene of his accident at Chappaquiddick, which resulted in the drowning death of his female passenger. In spite of all this, he’s fondly remembered by members of both parties, as someone who’s life balance at the end was positive. And I should add, his mark on the world was only as genuine as the motivations of his heart. His noble actions that escalated in prominence later in life appear to have in large part, made up for his “mess-ups” earlier in life, at least in the eyes of society. His is a story of redemption, of the hope that we all have, that in some ways we can learn from the mistakes we’ve made, and in some ways we can look to improve. And most of all, we can look to God for forgiveness, in a way that acknowledges that there’s nothing really that we can do, as imperfect people, to gain acceptance by a perfect Creator. Senator Kennedy believed he found his peace with God, remaining as faithful as he could till the end, when he was left without the mental and physical capabilities to really “do” many of the rituals in which we ourselves so often take comfort.  At the end, all he had was his faith and a life hopefully changed by it, and only it.

Senator Kennedy was given a long life to change how he lived it. We can’t always expect to have that privilege. So start now. Stand back, divide your life so far into the people and events that made you more of who you eventually want to be, and that which made you less of who you want to be. Plan every action from here on out according to that—is what you’re doing going to make you more of who you want to be, or less so. Don’t get too hard on yourself if you mess up; it’s always called the path to redemption, not the light switch. I myself have tried to get away from who I used to be—the self-centered, conniving, lion-in-sheep’s clothing that I really was. It’s a daily battle to keep from falling back into all that but I keep trying in spite of the mess-ups.

The bottom line is to aim to begin every moment with the end-goal in mind. Is your life more or less a cycle of pleasure gain, pleasure fade, with a few bathroom breaks in between? Or is every moment a dart aimed at the bulls-eye of your life; and is that where you find pleasure? And before your head hits the pillow tonight, make sure you’ve found peace with God—some way to know beyond any annoying doubt as to where you will find yourself after your life is but a collectively-fading memory. If you’re an atheist, logically reason your material butt into that foxhole already and maybe admit (even if it’s just to yourself) that there might at least be some things beyond what we can sense with our oh-so-attuned five senses. Like for example, why anyone should ever love another human being any more than the next lump of carbon and water. Speaking of love, take some time to spend with each other and stop putting so much value on money. Our inflation-driven economy doesn’t seem to care much about the value of our currency, so why should you? They say time is money. But our time, being finite, is of infinite more value than money.

Anyway, I thank you all for the time you’ve taken to read this note. This post was more for me than anyone else. If I ever get too smug to listen to others, hopefully I’ll at least listen to myself. And if, by now, you’ve wasted way too much time to leave me the default “Happy Birthday Jasen”—consider it done. When I think I’ve done enough with my life to throw a birthday party, to make this day more special than any other day to which I’m privileged to wake up,  you’ll all be invited. Though chances are someone will have to do that for me, because I hope I’ll be gone before I start thinking that highly of myself. And if by some chance I’m not, would someone please tell me to shut up?…Same thing if I start turning into one of those God-forsaken “blog people.”

Comments are required. Be as anonymous as you want…who cares if someone laughs at your post? You’re anonymous!