by Chris Canniff
When I was in high school, a man whom I respect very much uttered a line that, at the time, struck me as quite wise. He said, “We all want to go to heaven, but none of us want to die.” I thought to myself then, “How simple yet profound! How true!” Today, when I hear this phrase, I think to myself, “Yes, but…”
Yes, but…what about the people who feel that their lives are crashing down around them? Yes, but…what about the people who feel that they are an outcast? Yes, but…what about the people who feel that they have lost everything that had meaning in their lives? Yes, but…what about the people who have been abused and mistreated to the point of self-loathing? Yes, but…what about the people who feel completely and utterly alone?
Whether Catholic or not, all these people sure do want some sort of heaven, some sort of salvation, however they might understand it. But, we must acknowledge one sobering fact – some of them also want to die very much; they see it as their only way out.
When I was a sophomore, the Boston College community suffered the loss of a student to suicide. Like myself, he was a sophomore. Although I did not know him, we had many mutual friends, one of whom had even attended high school with him in Illinois. Having lost another student earlier that year to other tragic circumstances, BC students were reeling from shock and grief after the university informed us of this death in late April 2012.
I remember being at the Heights Room Mass the following evening and the immense emotion in the room as his friends gathered to console one another and to seek the consolation of God. Also, his sister’s friends were there too in great numbers, for his sister was a senior who was set to graduate in roughly three weeks. His parents who had been planning to fly out to Chestnut Hill for a joyful celebration of their graduating daughter had to, instead, come here sooner for a painful retrieval of their lost son.
Most of us will never know the depth of the despair felt by people who make this decision that resounds with finality. Most of us will never know what pain this young man felt as he sat in his room in Walsh, wrote a note, tied a knot, and ended his life.
And while most of us will never know these feelings, far too many young people our age do. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, roughly 1,100 college students commit suicide each year. Faced with this fact, we must ask ourselves plainly: “What can we, as people of faith, do to help those who have lost all hope?”
The answer is very simple to articulate, yet very hard to do and even harder to know how to do well. The answer is love. Unfortunately, we often use this word so much that we have tamed its force and domesticated its meaning, but, in truth, it is by no means a facile or superficial answer. Rather, it is immeasurably powerful if properly leveraged.
There is a contemporary church hymn that includes the following line: “We are pilgrims on a journey; / We are travelers on the road; / We are here to help each other / Walk the mile and bear the load.” I think this captures what we are called to do – set out each day offering to enter into the chaos and the suffering of those around us so as to help them out of it. This is what Jesus did for us; he saw our pain, took it upon himself by walking with us, and thus rescued us from a tragic demise of our own doing. We must all reflect on this thought in prayer, contemplating what this might look like in our particular life as we strive to live it in relation to a particular someone who needs us.
I have known not just one but actually a few people who have expressed such feelings of despair to me before, but many will never say anything to anyone out of fear of seeming even weaker or more of an outcast than they already feel they are. Be prepared to love those who do come to you, and also be prepared to sight and then to love those who suffer silently.
Then, to each “Yes, but…” statement they make about themselves, you can reply, “Yes, but you are loved.” And that could make all the difference.
If someone you know is struggling with depression or another form of mental illness, encourage them to seek help with University Counseling Services in Gasson 001. They are not alone, nor are you.