I’ve worked in the New York State Unified Court System for over 30 years, and it’s a safe bet to say I’ve seen some stuff. Despite that, no one is ever prepared for suicide. Recently, a 15-year veteran court officer walked into the bathroom of one of our NYC courthouses and shot himself. He was a year younger than me, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not even sure I knew him. His name hasn’t been released and I won’t pry, but the courts are small enough to probably have been mutual friends with someone I’m sure.
I don’t know what went through his mind, I respect him enough to not speculate, but I know my mind. I know the minds of all the men and women out there that continue on, day in and day out. Minds that are all too eager to keep everything hidden away from what they may perceive to be prying eyes looking for gossip to whisper, or hearts so distraught that they feel too embarrassed to release their internal struggle to anyone. Men are especially keen to keep things bottled up. We’re supposed to be built to “keep it together.” Unfortunately, this is what happens much too often. We keep it all together in this tight little box, adding more to it daily, weekly, all the while it bulges out violently at the seams, threatening to snap into shards and explode out suddenly like that old coiled snake squeezed into a peanut tin.
Breakdowns and suicides always came across to me in that way. We pack it all down until we can’t contain it anymore.
…and then we give up.
I don’t know what “gave” for this officer, but I know what the build-up feels like. I can sympathize with my own struggles. I don’t assume that if our paths had crossed, I could have talked him out of it. It’s likely I wouldn’t have even known of his plans, just like everyone else around him.
When something like this happens, all I can think of, is that someone’s next. Someone is putting up a good front. Someone is smiling through pain and tears. Someone is saying to another right now, “All you can do is take it one day at a time.”, even as they know this is that last day. People will speculate about attitudes and signs and how they should have known, but people are good at masks. People are experts at hiding it all away. Some people just manage their chaos well, moving the parts around deftly so they never feel totally overwhelmed. Maybe they’re even fortunate enough to have someone share the darker parts with, to help them through it. Good for them.
Others… eventually give up.
Like I said, I’m sympathetic.
The next person is out there, and I don’t want it to be you.
I’m not a counselor, though it’s ok to see one. I’m just someone to talk to. I’m not gonna fix you. Honestly, you’re not a project, and frankly I’ve never enjoyed being treated like one either. You’re a human being. In my opinion, a soul important to God, regardless of your hurts, hangups, baggage and failures. There is an intrinsic worth within you, something beyond our years on this earth. Something greater than the sum of our experiences. That intrinsic worth deserves to have someone sit with them at the low points, listen to them through the tears, and love them towards another day, and then another after that.
Grace as a Christian construct given to us by God, is a remarkable gift. It doesn’t make the bad things disappear. It makes us loved despite them. It makes us forgiven in the shadow of them. It calls us worthy anyway.
It’s a hope beyond our circumstances, beyond our pain, and even beyond our poor choices.
Let me plead with you one more time. Sometimes what overwhelms us, what builds up hidden away in that overstuffed box prepping to explode, consumes us so much that we can’t find an avenue of escape. We think there’s only one possible answer.
The truth is, the build up can be the worst part. It can consume our senses and overtake our thoughts, until all we want is for it to all go away.
In that desperate moment, here is a promise:
I promise someone out there wants to give you grace. Someone wants to hear your story. Someone wants to cry with you, or simply sit quietly in a booth with you in some diner for as long as it takes.
In these worst moments, in the midst of these hard thoughts, someone wants to give you grace. Someone wants to treat you like all the other things don’t matter. Someone wants to give you more than YOU think you deserve.
Most of us never get RIGHT UP to that line that this court officer sadly crossed, but it doesn’t mean we don’t get close enough to it to see the other side of it and wonder. It doesn’t mean that it’s simply a fleeting thought that gets dismissed with a wave of the hand.
We all have desperate moments. Individually, beyond our ability to properly convey it, internally, we know how desperate they truly are.
In light of that, reach out to the people around you. Maybe they’ll give you a basic “OK”, or maybe this is the day they give you a little more. May this be the day they say, “yeah… it’s been hard…”
One last time, if you really are struggling, reach out. Even if it has to start with a friend, please do it.
Grace will be waiting.