Easter Meditation on a Suicide Averted

Look, here’s a true story. It’s a bit raw, but maybe it’ll help.

I was living in Chicago when I got depressed. Not the bluesy kind of depressed, but the heavy, can’t-shake-it, “drenched wool blanket draped over your thoughts around the clock” kind of depressed.

Sure, I sought out counseling; sure, I attended group therapy sessions and read books for adult children of alcoholics. Nothing was helping, though, and I spent a lot of time going to movies.

By myself.

I was like Walker Percy’s Binx Bolling in The Moviegoer, but without the sexual dalliances, and without the admirable existential yearnings of Percy’s Kierkegaardian hero. I was a kid in his twenties from the Colorado burbs, newly Catholic, and living among do-gooders in gritty Uptown. In fact, the do-gooders were my heroes, and I was trying to become a do-gooder myself.

That’s why the depression was so bewildering. God, went my prayer, over and over again, God, why are you doing this to me?

Maybe you’ve prayed that prayer yourself, and maybe your prayer met with cosmic stonewalling like mine did – or at least that’s how it felt. Regardless, I prayed and prayed, and then I self-medicated by going to movies – lots of movies. Going to movies distracted me from the pain and the endless loops of irrational, self-destructive thoughts, and it was better than drinking – or worse.

One night, I ended up in Water Tower Place. There used to be theater there on the second or third floor – maybe it’s still there. I forget what the first show was, but I recall sticking around for a second because it was too early to go home – too early, that is, to land home and crash without feeling compelled to talk with my roommates. I do remember that second show: Gardens of Stone, Francis Ford Coppola’s other Vietnam film, a stateside gut-wrencher that revolves around the Arlington National Cemetery. It was probably not the best film for me to be watching at the time – hardly the diverting entertainment I was groping for. The film’s bleak fatalism accentuated my despair and underscored my emotional isolation.

After it ended, I trudged over to the Chicago subway stop on the CTA’s Red Line. It was late enough that the platform was sparsely populated – just as well. I didn’t want to talk with anybody; I didn’t want to interact. I was tired and miserable and anxious to get home to bed. My mind was racing with dark thoughts. Sleep, at least, offered the prospect of temporary mental relief.

Relief, I thought – and the thought morphed into a prayer: Please, God, grant me some relief. I was standing at the edge of the platform and looking down the tunnel for the ‘L’ train. There are no guardrails or barriers on the edge of subway platforms. There’s just air – just a drop-off to the rails and rats below. As I heard the rumble of the arriving train and saw its lights, I had another thought: If I just fall forward as the train arrives, I’ll get that relief. A pause – the lights got closer. Just a bit of courage, just a shift of weight, and I’ll fall forward, fall in, fall down. I vacillated at the last moment. No more pain…

Terrified, I wrenched myself away from the platform’s edge, and the train rolled in. I shuddered, backed up, and turned to the pay phone on the wall – no cell phones back then, no universal and immediate connectivity. Instead, my bridge back to safety was mediated by an anonymous operator. “Collect call,” I told her, and she punched in my parents’ Colorado number. One ring, two – then my mom’s voice. She accepted the charges and ventured, “Hello?”

“Mom, it’s me,” I said. “I need to come home. I need help and I need to come home.”

I did move home soon after, started regular counseling, and got on meds. The meds were like a temporary chemical brace for my wobbly thinking, and the counseling offered me long-term mental guardrails to lean on going forward – and here I am, decades later, guardrails in place, and alive.

That night on the subway platform I stared down death, stared it full in the face and slapped it away. In that split second, I was granted a choice – and a clear vision. With God’s grace, no doubt with God’s grace, I looked at self-annihilation straight on, considered it, toyed with it, and sent it packing. “Not tonight, you bastard,” my platform retreat declaimed. “Not tonight, you lousy bastard. Maybe tomorrow, but not tonight.” In that moment of crisis, I clung to the grace and gave in to its tidal sweep. It wasn’t the end of something, but a beginning. There’d be no quick cures, but only daily surrenders. Daily willful surrenders, with no guarantees, and yet each surrender meant living for another day.

And where’s there’s life, there’s hope – the Easter message in a nutshell. He is risen, dammit – risen! He’s alive, and where’s there’s life there’s hope. Hold onto life, no matter what – hold on to life, hold onto hope.

I’m telling you, when your platform moments come, you must back away. Your twisted thoughts will deny your infinite worth as a human being, your ineffable value to the world, to the universe, to those who love you – to us, to me. At those moments – if they come at all, God forbid, and if they do, let them be few – hear my words, let my words ring in your head: Your life is worth living; you will get through this; and don’t you dare, don’t you dare do anything to snuff it out. Don’t you dare.

Back away, and let the metal carnage pass. If I can do it, so can you. We can both refuse annihilation this day, this day! Alleluia.
_____________________

For immediate help, call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. A version of this reflection appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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5 Comments

  1. Jana Widmeyer

     /  April 16, 2017

    Wow. Been there. Saved by God’s grace. Happy Easter.

    On Apr 16, 2017 3:49 PM, “One Thousand Words a Week” wrote:

    > Rick Becker posted: ” Look, here’s a true story. It’s a bit raw, but maybe > it’ll help. I was living in Chicago when I got depressed. Not the bluesy > kind of depressed, but the heavy, can’t-shake-it, “drenched wool blanket > draped over your thoughts around the clock” kind ” >

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Antony J Retnam

     /  April 17, 2017

    I had the same problem, I was the second year novice in the Svd noviciate, used to feel lonely and used to go to the deep forests at midnights to cry or to pray but since I used to end those in the chapel around 4am my novice master Fr Lynch thought I was a Sait? He did not allow me to leave the seminar, but I got a sp director in Poona and managed to justify my leaving the priesthood! It’s now 47 years, I still feel my leaving pain! Where is the will of God in me, except that I pray for seminarians, church, world peace, children and adults, world sinners etc etc? Something tells me I did wrong in leaving priesthood pls advice?
    Sincerely
    Antony J Retnam

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  3. Maria

     /  April 17, 2017

    Thank you.

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  4. Marie

     /  April 18, 2017

    Antony, I really follow what you mean by “my novice master did not allow me to leave.” That statement doesn’t make sense to me. What exactly do you mean your novice master would not allow you to leave, did he physically compel you to stay with the order? Lock you up incommunicado or something? If all he did was tell you he thought you should stay, and you ran with that advice, that’s not the same as “not allowing you to leave.” That’s you making a decision that was influenced by his input.

    In fact even if he used words like “under religious obedience I’m telling you not to leave,” that still wouldn’t bind you to stay because the whole point of having canonical stages of formation is to have a period of time (ie novitiate) where the individual freely discerns whether to stay or go. Until you make final vows, no one has authority to order you to stay if you don’t want to. That’s canon law. So even if he did in some way “order” or “command” you to stay, you could have – with no sin whatsoever – just decided it wasn’t a good fit and left, since there’s no sin in disobeying an order which is outside the scope of someone’s authority to give.

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  5. Marie

     /  April 18, 2017

    Sorry, that was a typo in first line. Should say “don’t really follow.”

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