Thursday, January 03, 2008

Suicide, and getting through

I found out this morning, on returning to work after our blissfully long Christmas vacation, that a long-time co-worker had taken his life. He shot himself in his car.

I liked him. He was one person I could always trust when I asked design questions, and who would patiently walk me through (with some good-natured sighing about my ignorance) whatever question I posed. Even if he was working 18 hours a day, he would take the time to answer my questions and school me. He was intense, cranky, insistent, and smart as a whip (like all great designers). He's gone.

Between the time I was about 25 and 30, two friends, Jannah Hill and Peter Whitten, and my brother-in-law Colin Curran, took their own lives. I thought (no, hoped) those days were behind me (and there isn't much I wish to be already behind me). The death of my friend, reopens those old thoughts and regrets,. Could I have sensed something, or said anything if I had sensed something? Shouldn't I have known? Have I wasted my life doing what I am doing? Don't people who work side by side, in the end, have a sacred, really, a familial, responsibility for each other? Do we miss the signs, or do they carefully cover their tracks when they decide to leave this life?

When I was 17-20, I worked on a crisis hotline, and some calls came from people both toying with, and seriously contemplating, suicide. I know I changed at least one person's mind (or at least got them to cool off for a few days), and that when I checked a few years later, they were still among us. There were others where I never knew what finally happened. I don't think I had a gift or anything...just an overwhelming belief that you never know what tomorrow brings and that if you put off the moment, you just may see your way through. The death of my friend/co-worker brings that all back. . .I wonder if it isn't time to get back in?

In this country, thirty thousand people a year end their own lives. Last summer, we went to NYC where a lot of the family participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's "out of the darkness" walk, where thousand of people marched overnight to raise money (millions!) for research and prevention. This year's walk will be in NYC and Seattle (New York: June 7-8, 2008/Seattle: June 21-22, 2008.

Man, if you can pull even one person through to the next day, you never know! You don't know if he had planned this for years or if it was a bad moment, or if the turning point (and the way back) was just around the corner! Tomorrow, you could get it all back or turn the corner on the darkness.

I send my prayers and good vibrations to his family and friends that they can emerge from this whole, or mostly intact. And to Dream, "may the four winds blow you safely home."

I wrote this poem after my brother-in-law Colin took his life in 1983, and it kind of applies, still.

The Absence of Footprints

We're not trilliums or daffodils
That spring back up
After a nap in the dirt.

You told me you wanted
To make the crossing
Over to Cold Island
And I could never believe you.

It wasn't the karmic stain
That bothered me,
But the unfathomable fact
You didn't want to be here;
That all this wasn't enough.

All this is that.
And it wasn't enough.

You stare into the ditch
You spent years unloading.

You are afraid to climb in
And stop,

To take something
That isn't working,
and make it not work forever.



Mrs. G. said...

This is sad, Johnny, I'm sorry you lost a friend. Thanks for the walk info.

Mei said...

Did not know that you talked to him about it. I thought he was perfect.