Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Suicide is Painless

The game of life is hard to play
I'm gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I'll someday lay
So this is all I have to say.
‘Suicide is Painless

Theme from TV Show ‘Mash”

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?
Stand by Me

Found out today that an old friend of mine had died. I’d like to be writing an essay on how we remained friends throughout our lives, and what an amazing guy he was right until the end.

But I can’t do that. We lost touch.

It was particularly difficult to find that he had committed suicide. That’s not supposed to happen. He was MY age for God’s sake. Sure we are beginning to navigate all the stuff that comes with middle age, but a lot of the hard part is supposed to be behind us, right?

And why DID I lose touch with him exactly? Why do any friends? At one point he and a large number of us spent practically every day of our lives on the golf course as young guys. It was a lot cheaper than a babysitter for our parents. Man did we have fun. And antagonize people. And have a million laughs with each other on summer nights that seemed to last forever.

It doesn’t seem like anything will ever change when you’re young like that.

But somehow it always does. People go off to college. The first guy gets married. Someone has a kid. And the next thing you know, people you were virtually inseparable with slowly recede into the back of your memory. And soon enough you’ve got your own headaches and problems to deal with.

And time marches on.

We’ve been assisted a bit by living in the Facebook era, but even that’s a kind of double edged sword. Sure it helps us keep in touch, but is it real? We get to instantly see a snapshot of people’s best version of themselves. A person’s Facebook page is often like one of those annoying Christmas letters people send around detailing all of the ways their family excelled over the course of the year. Personally I’d rather have a fruitcake.

And I fucking hate fruitcake.

In a poignant essay entitled “The top five regrets of the dying” a hospice nurse recounts the major themes she heard again and again from people on their deathbeds. One of the items was, ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.’ She writes,

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

That’s kind of heartbreaking to read actually. And we all let it happen. I’m a TERRIBLE culprit myself. You just figure there will always be enough time.

I’ve come to believe that’s the most dangerous lie there is.

I don’t know what my old friend was going through when he decided to take his own life, but I do know one of the most common things people experience in these moments is a feeling of hopelessness. What happened to my friend’s hope? Why did he feel he couldn’t talk about it or ask for help, or just tread water a little longer until the darkness passed?

That’s the thing about suicide. It’s often a reflection of a life that’s become simply too painful to bare. Nearly every suicidal person has serious doubts about the process.

But in that moment, suicide is painless.

I wish I could have been that friend to him. That one person he could have called to get through that moment. I wish he had any kind of friend like that. We all need them. In our youth potential friends are everywhere, but it gets a little harder as we get older. We don’t share the same history with someone, the same references, music, movies, and understanding of a time and place where we have a completely identifiable language between us. That’s rare. That doesn’t come along very often.

Cherish your friends. There’s a reason you found them in the first place.

So in conclusion, I would like to share a little story about my friend.

I was 15 and he was 17 and we were playing golf together. He hit a nice booming drive into the fairway, and mine went slicing into the trees. He was older, and could hit it a little further, and already I was pissed off.

We walked towards my ball, and found it sitting right at the base of a large tree stump.

“Man, tough break,” he said.

“Not really” I replied, as I preceded to kick the ball out into the fairway.

But rather than a lecture, he gave me some advice. He told me that we hit some of our best shots when we recover from these shitty mistakes, and how I was never going to learn to get any better if I didn’t begin to accept this.

It was a great lesson. In golf, and in life. You got yourself into this mess, now summon your best powers of concentration and get yourself out.

You just might surprise yourself.

So that’s how I’ll chose to remember him. As a guy who called me on my bullshit, and chose to be the kind of friend who doesn’t look the other way.

It’s the kind I want to be as well…

So if you’re (still) reading this, please consider me a friend. You can talk to me, and I’ll listen, I promise. I hope I can talk to you as well. Let’s not lose touch anymore than we already have.

Maybe we can help each other.

It's what friends do...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Embracing the good ole’ days before you’ve actually left them

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald- The Great Gatsby

Martin Sloan-Then one day I knew I had to come back here.
I had to come back and ride the merry-go-round and eat cotton candy and listen to a band concert and to stop and breath and close my eyes and smell and listen.

Dad- I guess we all want that. Maybe when you go back Martin, you’ll find there are merry-go-rounds and band concerts where you are. Maybe you haven’t been looking in the right place.

You’ve been looking behind you Martin.
Try looking ahead.

Walking Distance- The Twilight Zone

I promised myself I wouldn’t write a New Year’s essay this year. No “new me in 2015’, no weight loss, healthy eating, and for God’s sake no exercise. No one needs to be preached to about those things. If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. God speed.

But, I did want to write a few words about the past. The timing is just a coincidence.

I thought about this while I was watching football (and not eating healthy) the other day. A college team had a big win, and when one of the kids hoisted the trophy, the announcer said “looking back, this will likely be the greatest moment of this young man’s life.”

STOP! (Hammer time)

It’s one of those things announcers say that sounds perfectly inspirational. And I’m not trying to piss in anyone’s cornflakes by disagreeing. But I DO disagree with the sentiment. It speaks to the idea that our memories have priority over our present and our future. Many of us get caught in this trap I think. We look back and get nostalgic for a time and place in our past, and hold it up as somehow superior to who and where we are now.

There has been a bit of research on this kind of thinking. Philip Zimbardo calls this a “past positive” orientation, and describes how people who think like this often spend their lives yearning for things that have already taken place. They might be overly cautious in their present lives, content to live on the memories of good times that have already occurred.

I reference the show The Twilight Zone in the opening to this essay, and in particular one of my favorites called “Walking Distance.”  In this episode a stressed out man has had enough of his current life and the pressure of deadlines, bills, and commitments. He wants to go home to a simpler life and a more peaceful time.

He finds he can’t go home again.

What I like most is the simplicity of his father’s advice. “You’ve been looking behind you Martin. Try looking ahead.”

Good advice for all of us.

Maybe we’ll find there are some great characters and wonderful stories just waiting to emerge in our present lives if we just take a little bit of a risk. It’s a wonderful thing to find that we still have the ability to surprise ourselves. I’ve been left for dead several times in my life, but somehow like that guy from “Quantum Leap”, a new incarnation always brings some great new adventures. I’m sure you can find them as well. Take a chance. Leap before you look sometimes. Play the hand you’re holding with some balls.

It just might be fun.

I close with one of my all-time favorite lines from one of my all-time favorite shows. I wish there was a way to know you were in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” 

Love it. Enjoy the now. Have some fun. Take some risks. Lean into the story you’re currently immersed in.

It’s later than you think.