October 31, 2007

Sliver Of Hope

Warning: You may find some passages in this entry very disturbing.

Listening to the 911 tape brought me to tears. On the tape you can hear the woman saying he’s got a gun, he’s really mad. Then you hear the dull thud as he presses the barrel of the pistol to the back of her head and shoots her while she is talking to the 911 dispatcher. Then you hear a loud shot as he shoots himself in the head. Then you hear the screams of the two little boys who just witnessed all this. There was also a 9-month old in a crib in the next room. Later on one of the boys told investigators that the battery (the shell casing) from Daddy’s gun hit him. That’s how close these two boys were.

This tragedy was brought on because the man (a sailor) thought his wife had been cheating on him while he was out at sea. It truly was a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Not so long ago a woman called our 911 Center to report her husband missing. She said he was depressed and that he had a pistol with him when he left. His daughter found him in the woods about 50 yards from the road. He had put one bullet into his right temple. If it was not an instantaneous death it was at least mercifully quick. Not so for his daughter who is now left with memories of a sight that will never leave her. Everyone who loved him will wonder what else they could have done.

The innocent bystanders are the ones who really suffer in suicide cases. For the person who takes their own life their temporal misery is over. There are no more black days, there is no more pain. For the spouses, the children, the friends and the co-workers the pain only increases and often festers as guilt.

All that aside I can see how some people come to believe that death is better than another tomorrow. There was a time in my life when the consequences of a number of horrendous decisions descended on me all at once. My very public downfall reverberated through every aspect of my life, my family, my friends, my job and buried me in the deepest depression. They were my bad decisions and I made amends everywhere I could and tried to regain the trust I had so maliciously violated. Trapped in the throes of grief and shame I went shopping for a shotgun. It seemed at the time more like a backup plan if things got worse. Fortunately the thoughts quickly passed and I committed myself to a becoming the man I wanted to be. I began listening to my conscience. Over many years I have become the man I am today and repaired most of the damage I inflicted on so many innocent people. In the ensuing years I also encountered true unconditional love.

Part of my decision to step back from the brink was that I did not want to be remembered as a man who quit. I wanted to be remembered as a man who fought back and remade himself from the shattered shards of his former self. That sliver of hope, or grace if you will, was enough to work with.

I am not trying to imply that someone who takes their own life is weak or is a quitter. I believe that there are no suicide decisions that are entered into lightly. Perhaps it’s one too many days with no hope, or the discovery of a fatal disease, or perhaps it is simply too much shame to bear. There are many more suicides in our community than I would have imagined. There probably more in your community as well. Unless the suicide is particularly gruesome, or is a public figure or a murder suicide the media generally stays away.

Sadly, as we enter into the so called Holiday Season the number of suicides will increase. For some the memory of a loved one who died during this season will simply overwhelm them. For others perhaps the isolation from the allegedly merry world will simply be too much. Many people, myself included, often have a hard time feeling the unabashed merriment everyone else’s seems to be wallowing in. I have had too many grey Holiday Seasons for that.

What should be the season of The Nativity of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, will for most of us instead be a season trampled by materialism and over indulgence. For some it will be too much. So I will try to remember the lonely, the sad, and the outcasts, to reach out to them to assure them that another tomorrow is better than the alternative, that the light of hope and love still permeates our sometimes lonely and bleak world.

Note: I painted the image used in this post several years ago.

October 10, 2007

The Fire Of Dedication

To embrace this path [of spiritual growth] is to go from first fervor to true fervor, from sentimental, romantic love to self-giving love, from the fire of emotions to the fire of dedication, moving in a continuously upward spiral into the fullness of what we are meant to be. . . Our concern must be what we are responsible for: transforming our fervor, our behavior, our love. Throughout the spiritual journey we are required to let go of this preoccupation with “what we can get out of it.” To do this courageously is one of the principal efforts and effects of authentic and wholesome spiritual practice.

In The Spirit Of Happiness by the Monks of New Skete

For the basic question is: of what are we witnesses? What have we seen and touched with our hands? Of what have we partaken and been made communicants? Where do we call men? What can we offer them?

For The Life Of The World by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

In my reading this week these two passages gave me pause. What to do when the fire doesn't burn quite so bright? Are we what we say we are? Is my life a faithful witness? Why do I not fast and pray as I should? Why am I so stingy with money and affection?

I know the answers yet I do not act. I understand that after the thrill is gone (pardon the phrase) comes the day to day expression of faith through action or inaction, through the daily sloughing of self and seeking to conform to His will. Even when I don't feel like it. No, especially when I don't feel like it. I once asked one of my former pastors/friend how she could get up every Sunday and preach? There must be days when she just didn't feel like it. Her answer was, "Fake it until you make it." That seems harsh but I think her comment contains a nugget of truth. In the repetition of prayer, in the unfortunate rhythm of repentance, in the acting out of our faith we find wisdom and solace. In our day to day we find eternity.

October 2, 2007

The Work At Hand

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Luke 6:35-36

Is this not the heart of the Gospel? This reading from Sunday brought a lot to mind. There was a time in my life when I was in a program in which I had to do a kind deed for someone every day and then not tell them what I had done. How quickly my enthusiasm waned. Doing good felt a lot better with positive feedback. I wanted everyone to know I was capable of kindness, that I was more than just a roiling cauldron of rage. What I did not realize then (or for too many years later) was that in doing good for others I was saving myself. It was not at all about what their reaction might or might not be. It was about my motivation. Why did I do the good deed? Works without love are dead. Love without works is not love.

This desire for affirmation was, of course, my pride talking. I could not see beyond my own self and never really took others or their needs into consideration. I suppose I could say I was raised in a family rife with alcoholism and abuse on both sides. Or that sometimes I like things too much for my own good. But those are crutches. I am responsible for my actions as well as my inactions and part of this responsibility is being honest with myself.

In some ways I have made no progress in the piercing of my pride. Here is an example. There are times when going through a restaurant drive-through that I also pay for the order of the people in the car behind me. I believe the politically correct term is practicing random acts of kindness. Initially I believed this was a way of being generous without taking credit, almsgiving of a sort. But I did enjoy the look on the face of the person working at the window. I realize now it is still about assuaging my guilty soul, taking the road most traveled and avoiding the real work at hand.

There is a homeless man who sleeps on a bench in front of a shut down restaurant near my home. He is harmless enough but he is slowly drinking himself to death as he fights to quiet the war still raging in his mind. Not the funny Otis Campbell kind of drunk from The Andy Griffith Show. His is serious alcohol abuse. Leaving food there for him would be an act of mercy yet I do nothing. When I am called to be merciful I am instead merciless. My unwillingness to reach out, to go beyond myself is disgraceful. I am undone. Will they know I am a Christian by my love?