On my last Saturday on the mountain, I was working at the parking lot when Mr. Jack, one of the sheriff’s department volunteers, pulled in. Mr. Jack is about eighty years old, has totally white hair, and likes to talk…a lot. I don’t exactly cultivate friendships with cops (even volunteer cops), but I try to stay on friendly terms with Mr. Jack.
We chatted for a few minutes about it being the end of the season before I asked him if he had heard anything else about the dead man I’d found in a pickup truck the week before. At first he said no, but then he said something, something, suicide.
I said something aloud, maybe oh, no! or maybe even damn!
Mr. Jack said, Oh, you didn’t know… I could tell he felt pretty bad about blurting the news out that way. Obviously, he thought I’d already heard.
He told me a note had been found in the truck. He didn’t say where. He didn’t tell me exactly what the note said, either (maybe he didn’t know), but whatever the note said, the sheriff’s department decided it meant the man had lit a charcoal fire in his tightly closed truck with the intent to kill himself. I suppose he succeeded, although I bet to his family, it felt like a failure.
Mr. Jack said the young man was only twenty-four.
I teared up. I couldn’t help it. I felt so sad for the young man and his family.
I’ve dealt with depression since I was a child. I’ve had suicidal thoughts at various times throughout my life. I know depression can be immobilizing. I know depression has kept me from achieving goals. I know times of suicidal thoughts are dark and scary times. So when I say I feel sad for the young man and his family, I don’t mean I feel sad in some abstract or theoretical way. I’ve felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t put one foot in front of the other, felt like I couldn’t go on. I’ve longed for oblivion. I don’t know what exactly this fellow was facing, but I have a pretty good idea of how he felt when he decided he just couldn’t make it through another day in this world.
To me, in most circumstances, folks who chooses suicide are not in their right mind. Barring terminal illness, I can’t see a mentally healthy person making such a choice. Many people have negative things to say about individuals who have ended their own lives. Because I’ve felt hopeless and useless and low myself, I have great compassion for people who’ve had suicidal thoughts, people who’ve attempted suicide, and people who’ve completed this desperate final task.
I keep thinking about IF I had crossed paths with the young man at some point before his death, would I have known he was in crisis? Would I have been able to say or do anything to help? Could I have stopped him from killing himself or at least helped him live one more day, maybe one day long enough to get over being suicidal? What could I have possibly done or said?
I wonder why I was the one who found the dead man. I know someone had to find him, and I was the logical person, since no one had been staying in that campground and I was the camp host on patrol. But was the Universe sending me a message? I know we humans tend to want to find meaning even where there is none, or maybe we simply overlay our own meaning where none was intended.
I’ve found a meaning in this experience. Whether the Universe sent the man to me to teach me this lesson, I don’t know. But if the Universe is saying something to me here, this is what I think it is: Don’t do that suicide shit, because someone is going to have to find you, and why would you wish that on anyone?
Point taken, Universe. Point taken.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline’s website (http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#) says,
The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, [as well as] prevention and crisis resources…
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
On the website, folks can click on the phone number in blue to Skype or on the word “CHAT” on the top left of the page to instant message with someone. I added the phone number to the contacts in my phone.
Ours is not a great society to grow up in, esp these days. Yeah, yeah, some people’s first reaction to that statement will be this is AMERICA, land of the free and home of the brave, we have more rights than anybody. Uh huh. Take a closer look. We have a nation that is fixated on money and power — Greed Rules. I think this nation has a higher percentage of mean, nasty, greedy, controlling power mongers than ever in its history. And it affects everyone, down to the lowest level of our society. Many young people these days consider it the norm — they don’t have friends, per se, they mostly just have victims.
A year or so ago, I was walking toward the grocery store about dusk. I saw a regular white envelope near the rear wheel of a car, partly folded in half, and it looked more substantial than just a discarded envelope. My innate curiosity insisted that I take a look. There was a young man in his twenties walking a bit behind me, and he stopped when I picked up the envelope and looked inside and saw money. The one on the top was a hundred. The young guy stepped closer and looked, then grinned and said, “Your lucky day. Wanna split it?”
Barely inside, an elderly woman (even older than me!) with a cane was hurrying out the door, a frightened look on her face. I stopped her and asked her if something was wrong. She said she must have dropped her money in the parking lot. She said it was $560 in an envelope, and she had to find it. I brought the envelope out of my pocket, and counted the money in front of her: there were two 100-dollar bills and eighteen 20-dollar bills. She started crying and said her niece had given her the money to get her old car fixed.
There are Givers and Takers, and the Takers seem to outnumber the Givers, by far. And the damage they do, deliberately and without conscious thought, cuts a bleeding swath through a once-great country.
And part of the problem is that many of the Givers are ridiculed for their giving; knowingly or not, many of them shrink from giving. They may be a Giver, but they hide behind a shield of not caring. This makes it hard for the people who really need them to reach out and ask for help.
“Don’t do that suicide shit, because someone is going to have to find you, and why would you wish that on anyone?”
I think that, for the most part, they are so far past that point that it isn’t even a consideration. I used to drive rail crews between their freight offices and their trains, back and forth. Occasionally, I had to find a strange place and pick up a crew from the scene of a suicide. Death by train is one of the ugliest deaths possible. It takes a huge toll on the rail crews. Sometimes the crew talked quietly about it, sometimes they just sat silently and stared into their lap or out the window. One engineer said a man was standing near the tracks as he came around a wide curve, and as the train approached, the man stepped between the rails and stood there, watching the train approach. The engineer had already put the train into emergency (fastest stop possible), but a long loaded train can take a mile or more to stop. The man stood there, looking into the windshield of the locomotive, and the engineer stared back, helpless to stop what was going to happen. When the locomotive was just a few feet from him, he lowered his head.
Statistics indicate that 30% of the annual 1,000 train deaths in the U.S. are suicides. In Chicago, it is about 47%.
On the other side of the coin:
One of my engineers told me that he and the conductor working with him entered a rail yard where they were going to park the train. They weren’t going very fast, but they were moving. Then he saw something pink on the tracks ahead. Pink?
The little girl was sitting between their rails, and turned around to watch them approach. The engineer slammed it into emergency, and they started slowing, but they already knew they couldn’t stop in time.
The conductor went outside and climbed down the ladder. And jumped to the ground.
And then he ran as fast as he could, ahead of the train, reached over the nearest rail and snatched the girl off the tracks just as the locomotive came up behind him.
I’ve been in the same boat as the young man was. Several times. Been plagued with depression since childhood. The depression can be so crushing at times it’s extremely difficult to think straight.
I feel for the young man. And I feel for his family.
Thank you for sharing this, Dave. I know how difficult it can be to talk about depression and suicidal thoughts, so I appreciate your willingness to be open about your experience. I hope you are in a positive frame of mind these days. Please take care of yourself.
Thank you for reading and commenting.