14 April 2024

Another Story

Categories: Life
Sunset Featured

It is life’s work to wake up.
– Pema Chodron –

It seems impossible that it is already about twenty years ago that a bomb exploded in my life. The teenage son of a close friend committed suicide. I had known and loved this boy from his birth.

He was wiry and intense. Such blue blue eyes and this huge imagination. I remember him lying on the floor as his mom and I chatted, now and again he moved his arms, moved his feet held tightly together: he was being a dolphin just gently floating in the ocean. But the very next minute he could be leaping about at top speed inside some other story in his head. He seemed a happy boy, was a happy boy I think. But as he progressed through primary school difficulties arose.

He was one of those children who can lecture you on dinosaurs, who is interested and interesting. Bright as a button, but no good at passing exams. I was aware of these issues. I can remember talking to his mom about it. I can remember vaguely suggesting he stays back a year to gain confidence and, in a way, catch up with himself. But there were disagreements within the family on how to deal with what were now acknowledged problems.

I had no real insight into how serious these were. You know how it is, even in very close friendships, there are sometimes no-go areas. And then one day I phoned to speak to his mom, but she was out and he answered the phone. Instead of just taking a message he seemed reluctant to end the conversation, so I asked: You ok? “No” he said “I am not”. “My report (end of term or year assessment after exams) has come and it isn’t good”. I said something sympathetic and non-committal. He said: “I have to tell my father”. Writing this I can hear his voice and feel the tears rising. I said:”Oh man, he’ll understand.” I KNEW he wouldn’t. The boy said absolutely evenly: “No, he won’t”. We talked some more.

Now here is what I didn’t do. I didn’t phone again and speak to both the mom and the dad. I didn’t say to the boy: Your dad is wrong in his reactions, wrong in his thinking. I am sorry sorry that he is making you feel scared and sad and less than. I left him on his own with what he was feeling.

We saw him and the rest of the family from time to time. One visit stands out because I noticed how compliant he was compared to how my son had been at that same difficult age. Another time I was taken aback to see absolute rage in his eyes.

And then came the day when I took a phone call from my friend. She was screaming and screaming. They had come back from an outing to find that the boy had washed up the family dishes and shot himself in the heart with his dad’s weapon.

Two weeks later his parents came to stay with us. We talked, we wept. They returned home. I was thinking and thinking and remembering and examining my heart and my conscience. I decided that although I had not spoken up, had not said what was true and real when he was alive I could at least do so now he was dead. So I wrote to my friend and said: I am not expecting you to remain friends with me after you read this letter but nonetheless let me tell what I know. I know that this boy’s death is on my conscience and on yours and on his dad’s and whoever else knew of his trouble and inability to deal with it. We knew and we did nothing that was real.

She phoned almost immediately to say it was a relief to hear it said and to acknowledge her guilt as I acknowledged mine.

This terrible thing took me to a place to where it was important to ask myself: Am I speaking the truth? Am I just doing what is expedient? I struggle with this still. One does not want to be offensive. One does not want to damage relationships. But I am aware now, I keep watch on myself. Because truly I cannot afford to do that ever again. The truth can be an actual lifeline.

Hold on to the truth within yourself as to the only truth.
– Buddha –

Rose Soeur Emmanuelle

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