Tips, Techniques and Teachings for Difficult Times
In January 2019, one of my former students committed suicide. She was 23 years old.
She’d made it through high school, where I’d met her.
She’d graduated from university with a B.A. in English Lit.
She was in the process of becoming a teacher.
She had an infectious smile and the bluest of eyes. She spoke quickly and vibrated visibly when she talked about things that interested her.
On the surface, she appeared to have survived the vagaries of growing up in a world that fights hard to imprison us in childhood.
I’d seen her a couple of months before her death, in the little soap shop she worked at while finishing Teacher’s Ed. She’d seemed fine.
I was filling gift bags for the participants of a writing retreat I was hosting that weekend. She was helpful and friendly. We chatted and laughed.
I thought of inviting her along. I had an open spot. She, like many of my past writing students, held a special place in my heart.
“I could give it to her for free,” I thought.
But she seemed fine.
And, it was last minute.
And, I’d have felt awkward if she’d said no.
Life Lines has grown out of Emilie’s death. When I heard that she was gone, I felt like my insides were being torn out. I felt confused.
Then, I felt guilty. My mind began to hum with shame — I should have been able to look past her friendliness and cheer and see deep into her pain.
I should have been able to be there for her at the exact moment that could have saved her.
And yet, I knew, even then, that her death was not about me. It would be incredibly egotistical to think so.
The truth is that countless people have shared the same regret. After all, Emilie was loved by many.
But…I help people transform their lives…every day. It’s what I do. It’s how I see myself.
And so, the morning I found out that she was gone, I cried. And then, I took out a poster paper and stuck it to the wall in my kitchen.
I thought: “This shouldn’t have happened,” and wrote her name across the top.
That poster stayed on my wall all of January, February, March, April, May, and into June. Purple Post-its began clustering around it as ideas for blog posts sprung up in my mind. For all the Emilies, I kept thinking.
I even started a blog on another site I’d been working on. It was very literary. It didn’t do what I wanted it to. I stalled.
And then, in June one of my clients told me that it’s the mental tools I give him — the insights, ideas, and techniques — that really help him. He said, “My mind goes 1000 miles a minute 24/7 and I don’t have time for big things.”
Big things like yoga classes, massages, meditation circles and writing retreats.
And then, shortly after, I asked my Facebook supporters for possible blog titles and someone who’d come to a community workshop I’d given suggested, “Life Lines.”
She explained: “Sometimes a line can save a life or might just be what a person needs to provoke positive thought and motivation.”
And I thought: “Yes, that’s it. That’s what I want it to be. That’s what I want it to do.”
Recently, I was having lunch with a former client and friend who is deep in her grief after losing her mom. At one point, she said, “I will definitely come back to you when the dust settles.”
“When the dust settles.”
There was a time when I kept waiting for the dust to settle. When I didn’t have time for big things. When I wondered why my world was spinning out of control and I felt like I’d lost sight of the ground.
And, once, a long, long time ago, there was a time when I thought life wasn’t worth living and dreamed of the perfect suicide.
But I was lucky. There were always life lines…little saving graces…that brought me back to earth and allowed me to stand my ground even when my world was heaving.
Sometimes, they came from books. Sometimes, they came from people. Sometimes, they were little actions I could take or ideas I came across that blossomed in my mind like great, unfolding pink peonies that changed my perception forever.
Eventually, over time, I began gathering them all up and they became life lessons – survival tools – hope. I gathered and gathered and gathered because I’ve almost always been living on uneven ground.
In his book The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease, neuroscientist Marc Lewis describes a radical addiction treatment initiative in the United Kingdom called Reach Out Recovery (ROR).
He explains that the goal of the campaign is “to be there for addicts at the very moment when their desire for change is ignited.”
Shopkeepers, including newsagents, bakers, butchers, and pharmacists, are trained in brief interventions. Their “recovery-friendly” shops display an ROR sticker on the front window so addicts are aware that they can go there for help. People come off the street, perhaps buying a loaf of bread at the same time, and say, “I’ve had enough! I’m ready to quit!” Then the shopkeeper tells them they’ve come to the right place, takes a quick inventory, and advises them on what to do next.
I hope this blog can do that for people who need hope or guidance or motivation – be there at the very moment they need it – offer them “a line that can save a life.”
And so, for all the Emilies and everyone in between, I will write. I will share the ideas, approaches and teachings that have saved my life.
I am, after all, still living on uneven ground. I’m still waiting for the dust to settle.
The best teachers always are.