Preventing suicide 45 years later

I came across someone the other day with whom I attended a certain highfalutin but compromised in so many ways Catholic Prep School many decades ago.

Back in the day, if I remember correctly, he was thrown into a tizzy by an IQ test we had to take. He had a most rare super-intelligence. He hated that for the reason that he knew enough to know that he had no idea about the most basic questions of human existence, about God, about our fallen human nature, about those who ought to know better being so freakishly corrupt. He wasn’t one to escape this realization like everyone else. His inability to escape and the overeagerness of others to escape both quite destroyed him. He was at a low point. He was scared. He had some suicidal ideation, which he found repulsive.

Mind you, he wasn’t exactly a loner. He was very, how to say, plugged in, situationally aware of people’s motivations. He didn’t know how to interact much because every situation would bring up innumerable questions. He was ruthlessly direct, so you couldn’t mistake any meaning, although entirely polite. But so many of the students, faculty, admin were so shallow, so self-referential. He himself was anything but self-absorbed. He was just terribly hungry for the truth. Who was going to provide answers for him?

I remember the scene. Of all inept people in the universe, he had targeted me, waiting for me near my locker in the corridor outside “The Seniors Room”, at the window, before the tunnel (circled in red above). There was no escape for me. He locked me into a conversation eyeball to eyeball where I had to count on my guardian angel for guidance. This was all about the spiritual life, theology, the meaning of life, every “why?”. He opened up about his struggles. He was superb at spilling his guts in mere minutes, with precise logic, with impossible conundrums, with interruptions from me. All between classes.

I’m quite sure he didn’t approach me because I was anything special or had anything figured out. It’s just that I wasn’t suicidal, and that, I think, amazed him. That’s what he wanted to know about.

Fuller picture: Some rumors about me that had spread throughout the school at the speed of light. I only know about those because of very many students asking me how I was doing, and that they were praying for me. They were all trying to be super tactful, all with great concern, some adding that they had heard about “it”, but that they really weren’t supposed to talk about “it.” I don’t know how “it” got out, whatever “it” was. I had been shot at almost uncountable times, bullets whizzing by my head, but I was never hit… so, whatever. Could that be “it”? Whatever… But that attitude of “Whatever…” was what this smart student wanted to know about. Instead of sympathizing with me about something for which I wasn’t seeking sympathy, he wanted to benefit from whatever was going on with me that provided a strength he wanted.

Now that I think about it, I’ve had discussions with uncountable suiciders over the decades, who didn’t go through with it, thanks be to God, or, years later, a couple of them did so. So sad.

This guy, I’m happy to report, is a world-class good-guy, as I think he always was. For years he’s been helping in his own way to reach into the darkest of the dark side and do lots of what ends up being suicide prevention because of preventing so very much evil from being perpetrated in the first place.

I’m not going to claim that I was able to help this guy back in the day, even as a mere sounding board. Dunno. But, whatever my ‘arguments’ were at the time, surely that’s not what he sought from me. I think he was just looking for someone who was willing to go on in life because of faith in the midst of adversity: someone is doing that… so why not me too? Something like that. Hope might seem elusive, the ol’ hoping against hope, or a thread of hope, but the thing about hope is that it’s actually a harness that’s really difficult to escape.

I think that kind of witnessing is something all of us can do, and I bet we do that much more than we might think. Guardian angels are good friends, helping to set up just such encounters in the first place. We don’t have to be smart. And however weak we might otherwise be, we just have to be faithful.


Filed under Spiritual life, Suicide

6 responses to “Preventing suicide 45 years later

  1. Dianna

    You are annointed Fr. George. From birth, you have been chosen to show the light of God to the world. Even at a young age, your gift was seen by others. I think you know God has annointed you. Not just a priest, not just a man, but a man of God from birth. Chosen! I think that’s the “it.”

    • Father George David Byers

      I’m such a sinner. So are we all without God’s grace. God works with irony. My guardian has lots of irony to explain to me in eternity. And so for us all. I can’t tell you what this guy does, but I’m happy to say he’s a hero of mine for sure.

  2. Gina Nakagawa

    We are all sinners, Father. Some are willing to admit that fact, but many more are arrogant and choose to ignore the fact or brag about their great “virtues.” God bless you for your humility and faithfulness.

  3. Aussie Mum

    Re “I think he was just looking for someone who was willing to go on in life because of faith in the midst of adversity.” Yes! Faith is the answer.
    It seems to me that those poor souls who suicide think they are avoiding further suffering, either going to a better place or into the oblivion of eternal sleep wherein all their pains and sorrows cannot be felt, or that death means the total annihilation of the self so that one no longer exists at all. Yet death would not seem like an escape if they believed in hell. Unfortunately, secular suicide prevention programs do not teach about hell.
    I have heard it said that fear of hell is a bad thing because it adds to one’s suffering here on earth but that is not so if one also believes in God, trusting in His love and mercy. If only they could see that no matter how heavy life in this world becomes there is light at the end of the tunnel and that light is love Himself.
    God could not have made the solution clearer when last century His Mother showed us hell via the three children of Fatima and Our Lord presented the Divine Mercy image via Sister Faustina with the signature “Jesus I trust in You.” Watering down the faith has caused such misery. It has to stop. If we laity can do nothing else at least we can make clear our belief in Heaven and Hell regardless of the naysayers, and if the opportunity arises, share the story of Fatima and the meaning of the Divine Mercy image.

  4. Monica Harris

    I like that…Hope as a Harness. Thank you.

    “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”

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