One day one of these students stood at the front of this classroom and in a brave but faltering voice read an essay she had written about her journey into a dark, despairing place. The fact that she was there to tell her story meant that our ensuing tears were cradled in joy and relief. We blamed ourselves for not noticing her previous pain. We reached out to each other. We hugged. We made promises to care and to listen. This particular graduating class always had strong friendships, and that day in English 30-1 was only one of many, many moments that bonded this energetic, life-loving group of teens together.
Today that bond is being reforged through the blistering fires of shock and grief as a different classmate’s story has not ended in any semblance of joy or relief. The unfathomable has happened to one of the sweetest, most sincere and caring of them all. We question how such darkness could have descended on someone so full of sunshine and smiles.
Answers evade our grasping hearts.
But here is what we are learning: suicide is no respecter of persons. Every one of us is vulnerable to that black wallpaper of the mind that refuses to be removed, stripped, replaced. Sometimes no amount of chipping away at it, painting over it, slapping millions of emoji happy faces on it, covering it with Snap-chat filters or face swaps can change the pervading darkness.
It is such a painful place to be.
We are also learning that living in a society of curated-selves can contribute to loneliness and a loss of self. We have become increasingly adept at plastering on external wallpaper to hide our internal messes. And too often we feel completely inadequate in the face of the ‘perfect’ lives projected by others. We fear rejection and failure, being judged or disappointing others and ourselves. We want to belong, but sometimes that means we have to re-form ourselves to fit other people’s expectations. We get so twisted out of shape we no longer recognize ourselves. So whatever the causes may be, when the darkness starts to invade our perspectives, we retreat into it rather than away from it. We know we have friends and family that care, but somehow that truth gets shrouded in the lies and hopelessness that propel the darkness forward.
It is such a confusing and painful way to live.
I wish I could identify all of the sources of pain that caused my 25 year old son to think that suicide was his only option. I wish I could have fixed all of the little and big things that led him to conclude that “Life isn’t for everyone.” I tried to mend the broken pieces I could see and touch; there were just so many he kept closed off where I don’t think even he could reach them.
I fought for his life. I fought so hard. Some days he fought alongside, grasping for something, anything that would make life seem possible; other days he wrapped himself in that horrible black wallpaper as if it was his only source of comfort and became completely unreachable. On one of his despairing and angry days, he lashed out at me saying, “Your love will never be enough to stop me from doing this.”
He was right. My love was not enough to prevent his suicide.
But he knew I loved him. I still do. I always will.
And I guess this is another thing we are learning: to love.
Even when it hurts. Even when it doesn’t seem like enough. Even when it isn’t enough.
Because love cares and actually finds ways to show it. It fights through the messiness and ugliness of life because it sees value in each and every breath. It chooses to be real and honest and ditches the fancy wallpapers and emojis and filters. It communicates – talks and listens and cries and laughs and makes sure that everyone has a voice that is heard. It never gives up, even when grief tries to suck everything into some black vortex of helplessness and hopelessness. It forgives. It chooses hope over despair.
So, to all my current and former students: you are loved. You not only have families and friends who love you, but you also have a very dedicated motley band of teachers who have their own struggles with the messy and hard things of life and still choose to love you.
Don’t equate the marks we give/gave you on tests and classwork as love. That stuff is about our job to teach and your job to learn. Some days we fail(ed) you, and some days you fail(ed) us.
But when tears are split on the staff room floor because we know that you are living hard things? When we reach out with a smile and words of encouragement? When we let you hang out in our classrooms because we know you need a safe place to be? When we drop everything to hear your stories as you come back to visit after launching off to universities and colleges and jobs and adulting stuff?
That’s about love. We are here for you. In spite of our own imperfect and messy lives.
Love chooses to be real and transparent – I wish we could all be brave enough to plaster it everywhere so none of us have to stay wrapped up in some colourful wallpaper version of ourselves or cocooned in the black impenetrability of depression and despair.
Live love and live loved.