A friend of mine killed himself yesterday.
We weren’t close friends—we’d served together on various church things, had said hello at services, had made each other laugh a few times. He was remarkably patient and reservedly quiet, a rare and prized pairing of attributes. He had an astounding comfort with heights, which always impressed me as I held tightly to the ground below.
His is not the first suicide I’ve known, and I am sorrowfully certain it will not be the last. In the face of this are the oft-asked questions: What did we miss that could have saved him? Where did we fail? What was so wrong? Where was God?
There is so much desire, in these moments, to assign blame, or to avoid it, or to explain that we may file these things away, understand them, reach toward something that makes this bearable. But there is no explanation—there are causes, to be sure, and we can and should delve deeply into the world of mental illness and accountability systems, into the places of our culture that don’t want to admit that brokenness comes in all sizes and volumes. There can be no explanation, though, because the only one who could explain this is dead.
This morning I had to take my car into the shop for repairs. While my dear chariot was having her innards taken apart, I walked to the McDonald’s down the way for some coffee, some breakfast I was delighted to be able to eat after a nasty brush with stomach illness a few days ago. I needed this new space to think, to write, to simply be for a moment without hurrying past this loss as I have done for so many, bent on crossing off to-do lines that did not include those with no more lists to present.
I sat next to the huge panel windows with my coffee and my notebook and looked at the sun sparkling on the snow, a new layer fresh last night that fell like splotches of confetti. This snow is the best kind, the heavy wet flakes which lace every branch in the crystalline frosting of a living painting. I listened to a group of old men next to me jawing over their lattes, comfortably rehashing stories and opinions they’ve all heard before in the familiarity of old friends and weather predictions. My friend will not hear these conversations. He will not see this snow, this beautiful stillness when the world waits, rests, finds its own renewing peace in the chaos of all we inflict upon it. He found no peace, and I will likely never know why, or if I or anyone else could have done anything about it.
But I see this snow, and hear these conversations, and delight in a stranger who smiles at me. I live; I live in the sorrow, and I live in the joy of an ice palace, in the laughter of others, in the hope that tomorrow will be better. I live in the stunning blindness of light on light that I may also live in the darkness, because I know both. I live in the arms of a God Who does not explain why my friend knew only the shadow, Who does not tell me what happens now, much though I wish He would. I live that I may go to a memorial service on Monday and remember, and pray, and mourn, and fight for those who live but barely, whose lights flicker uncertainly.
Do you also live, Reader? Do you marvel at the warmth of the sun and the sway of easy jazz? I pray that you do—that, though we may never meet, you know that your living is good, and true, and necessary. Live, Reader; hope, and weep, and laugh, and know to the tips of your toes that even when people fail you, when the darkness seems complete, it is not, and God is there. Hold to this promise, dear heart, for you are so valuable, and absolutely loved. May you find your own measure of peace today, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
“Come to me, all you who are troubled and weighted down with care, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and become like me, for I am gentle and without pride, and you will have rest for your souls; for my yoke is good, and the weight I take up is not hard.” (Matthew 11:28-30, BBE)