Monday, May 28, 2018

Project Semicolon, Sydney, and my 1st Tattoo

This weekend, for the 4th year in a row, I traveled to Sydney to attend Vivid Fest, a wild, crazy, colorful party in my favorite city in the world.

But that’s not all I came to do.

I also wanted to visit a place called Watson’s Bay, just a short ferry ride from the city.

I recently came across a story about a man named Don Ritchie, also known as “The Angel of the Gap.” He was a former military man who went on to sell life insurance after his career in the army.

 Nothing too out of the ordinary.

What IS out of the ordinary, is that he lived at the base of one of the most beautiful spots in Australia called "The Gap" in Watson's Bay just outside of Sydney. It's an incredible place full of fantastic views, crashing surf, and lots of privacy.

It's also one of the most famous suicide spots in the world.

During his years living there, Don observed a lot of sad, lonely, and even desperate people outside of his oceanfront home. When he saw these people, he often went down to talk to them. Sometimes he invited them in for some tea. Other times he physically restrained them from jumping over the cliffs to meet their demise.

All told, he saved over 160 lives during his 45 years living in Watson’s Bay.

How in the world did he do this?

His daughter discussed how he would simply walk out of his home with his palms up in the air and ask, “Is there something I could do to help you?"

And often that was enough to start the conversation. A smile. A small gesture of compassion.

So I came to Sydney in part to sit, think, and meditate at Watson’s Bay about this story, and think about the power of a simple act of kindness.

But that STILL wasn’t all I came to do.

I've never gotten a tattoo before, which is actually a little strange. I've been a wild, irresponsible, impulsive, reckless, traveler in my life, and have rarely turned down a dare. If ever there was someone you would think would have gotten an irresponsible tattoo, it would be me.

But nope. No tattoo.

Until now that is. During my trip to Sydney, I decided it was time.

Over the past few months, I’ve become involved with Project Semicolon.

Project Semicolon defines itself as "dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury," and "exists to encourage, love and inspire."

Why the semicolon you might ask?

Project Semicolon explains that "a semicolon is used when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life".

And I thought about that as it relates to my own life.  At many forks in the road, I've felt like maybe that was all there is. Maybe I'd had my fun. Maybe my best days were behind me.

So yes, I know what hopelessness feels like. Know what if feels like to feel too tired to go on. Too discouraged to get up and fight another round.

But I’ve always found that semicolon. A reason to keep going. A sparkle of hope that lets me believe that something could change and better times that I couldn’t see right now might exist.

And in becoming a psychologist, I’ve done my best, with all my flaws and vulnerabilities, to help install some of this hope in others. Like many people who become helpers, I chose a helping profession in part to try and make sense of some of my own personal, painful experiences and memories. Along the way, I learned to put some of these things to good use.

I once asked a friend why he became a teacher. He could tell I was serious and gave me a real answer. He talked about how he read a passage in the book The Catcher in The Rye, when he was young, about how all the protagonist Holden wanted to do in life was be "the catcher in the rye" who waited by a cliff and prevented kids from going over.

That's a lot of what a great teacher does I think. I've certainly had a few in my own life. They are the people who see us going over the cliff, and try and save us in every way they know how.

And I think, in saving others, that perhaps we also save ourselves.

So today I got my first tattoo so, in those moments where my own life gets a little dark, I can remember that life continues. There's gonna be a lot more good, bad, sadness, heartbreak and laughter.

I accept that. For we the living, life continues. As long as we are drawing breath, there’s a chance to change our circumstances, even if it's only in some small way. Maybe it's by helping someone else. That's the best way I think.

But today, as I sit at the edge of this magnificent cliff, I sit in awe of the wonder of nature. I sit in honor of a man who saved 160 lives with his kindness. I sit in somber reflection of the people who didn't make it and went over this cliff. It was an incredibly powerful moment in a number of ways.

But mostly I'll walk away from here, knowing life continues.

Life continues.

Life continues.