I stand by this communal bench made up of 45 individual blocks of wood. I sit down, look around, and take in the vastness of this round blue planet with its unfathomable mysteries and ask myself: “Is there ever the possibility that a departed friend might choose to visit and watch with me these never ending waves come to greet us?”
This is a question I have pondered all this week over hearing the news of the suicides of two young people: one person I had met briefly when she visited Windgrove several years ago; the other was the nephew of a friend living nearby whom I did not know.
I have been reflecting for days now on this troubling subject of youth suicide, but cannot come up with any coherent approach with which to write about it. Let me, therefore, just jot down some of the several thoughts and feelings that have coursed through me and let you, the reader, glean out of it what you will.
• Karen’s* death is troubling because during her time at Windgrove she seemed confident, in charge of her life and committed to using her talents of singer/song writer and yoga teacher to help bring about social and environmental change. An empowered spiritual feminine warrior. These people are too precious to lose. An extra tragic waste, if you will.
• By coincidence, this past week I have been reading a biography of poet William Stafford written by his son Kim. One chapter — “The Lost Child” — has Kim writing about the suicide of his brother Bret, son of William:
My brother Bret was… a sensitive man, but with a crippling habit of self-sacrifice. His sweet liability surfaced early, when in junior high he announced that in lieu of any Christmas presents he would prefer that friends and family donate money to the United Nations. In high school, he served as Special Projects Chair for his class, and arranged a heroic volunteer effort that resulted in the planting of a mile of flowering cherry trees along the road between town and school — trees now tall, about twenty feet apart, with the full blossoming bounty of spring.
Riding along that road as a child in blossom time, my daughter once asked me, “Did the world thank Uncle Bret for all those trees?”
“No, little friend,” I said, “I don’t believe it did.”
A few pages later:
“By [my father’s] lead, we rarely spoke directly about what had happened. I wonder now at a family that lets this happen: we suffer a tragedy that shows us there is great need for more talk, clarity, and honesty about hard things. Might more talk have saved Bret — even awkward, difficult talk? Even with that question hanging in the air, we maintained a continuing habit of silence, all the same. It felt strange, but I know it is often so with families.”
“…..how about the boy who always
granted others their way to live,
and he gave away his whole life
till at last nothing was left for him?
Don’t tell that one.”
from “Story Time”, by William Stafford
• Does peace ultimately prevail?
A friend wrote from California: “Dear Peter, re the young woman lost… We do what we can for those in pain and pray that our love can seep through the protective chinks in their armor of fear and sad experience. That is all we can do. I have, like you, lost so many to the darkness. I wonder if there is another world for tender souls who could not hold on any more.”
• Maybe we need to push through the chinks of each other’s armor and insist on a conversation that begins with, “How are you really feeling. Let’s talk.”
Maybe we need to find more courage on our part to break the habit of silence around gnarly questions and reach out — especially to those young activists engaging in global issues guaranteed to cause feelings of grief. Whomever we touch touches us.
• On the phone, when first hearing about Karen’s body being found after she had gone missing, but not yet being told how or why she died, my mind flashed to the concurrent media news that was talking of a young woman, possibly abducted, possibly raped, possibly murdered. Was this Karen? My whole body started trembling with an empathic panic as I felt how, yet again, some unfortunate woman’s last minutes were filled with extreme terror at the hands of some deranged male. Maintaining breath those first few seconds on the phone was an effort.
When I heard that Karen was not murdered, but had taken her own life, I felt — strange as it seems — relief. Relief that, as painful as her tormented inner pain was to her in the moment of her jump to her death, there would not have been a crushing terror pulsing through her body resulting in an unwanted, un-chosen death.
• To Karen I pray: Somewhere over the rainbow way up high your heart rests in peace. It knows the goodness you achieved will never die.
• Jesus, according to the Bible, said that he was not his brother’s or sister’s keeper, meaning I suppose that ultimately we are all responsible, through free will, for our own actions.
Maybe, but I also hold to the belief that our present culture is inflicting abuse of such magnitude upon our young people that the more tender, caring, fragile souls among them can collapse more violently under this extra despair.
The added burden this generation carries because of a world under siege by the rapaciousness of environmental destruction, population growth and resource depletion has to increase the level of despair. A despair that, before globalization, was rarely encountered. (An exception would be the aboriginal tribes around the world that have been stripped of their connection to their lands. Are they healthy now?)
In the end, it is all about knowing how to nurture and love one’s sense of self whilst weaving and re-weaving connections between family and friends in real life and on FaceBook. This will enable each of us, and especially our younger activists, to stay alive with vibrancy and to stay the course as our global home undergoes massive changes.
Fragile as a spider’s web
hanging in space
between tall grasses
it is torn again and again.
A passing dog
or simply the wind can do it.
Several times a day
I gather myself together
and spin it again.
Spiders are patient weavers.
They never give up.
And who knows
what keeps them at it?
Hunger no doubt
* To respect the privacy of the relatives of the deceased, I have changed the name of the person I write about.