Note: This is an older blog post, originally posted November 19, 2018.
So I showed up to my math class a few minutes early today (don’t tell my boss – I want him to think I have a tardiness problem), and started chatting with the girl seated behind me. As an aside, I’ve discovered something truly wonderful: people have unique stories and are supremely interesting to talk to! Who knew?? Absolutely fascinating.
Anyway, she spoke fluent Spanish, so our conversation shifted towards language and literature. She began telling me about a poem she had selected to write about for one of her English classes. It was a poem outlining reasons not to commit suicide.
We started talking about losing hope and giving up on life and this girl seemed very sharp and engaged in the subject and lamented the teen suicide epidemic, but didn’t offer much in the way of a solution. Ever eager to share my sagely wisdom with a young budding mind, I put on my warmest “oh-you-sweet-summer-child” smile and said:
“Young people just haven’t lived long enough to realize that life is change, that nothing ever stays the same, and that in time, things will get better.”
That’s right. Put that on a glossy motivational poster, slap a kitten on it, and hang it in your locker, because this wise old owl just delivered some solid life’s advice.
“But not always. Things don’t always get better.”
Those of you who were raised properly will remember getting popped in the mouth for back-talking like that.
“No, you’re wrong” – is what I wanted to tell her. I wanted to tell her about the people I knew who had been to very dark places but had come back from the brink (and even from over the brink) and who were living happy lives now. I wanted to tell her that feelings of despair and hopelessness are normal parts of life, but that they don’t overshadow the happy moments life gives us.
I wanted to tell her these things, but I couldn’t… because…well, she was right. I remembered the people I’d known for whom life didn’t improve.
The people whose hearts got lost in despair and eventually found comfort in darkness. The people who accepted their predicament as their destiny. The people who lived as shells, drowning in drugs and alcohol, and wallowing in bitterness and regret. People like I used to be.
I realized that the answer to this problem wouldn’t fit into an internet meme. Or even a single conversation. Or even a book. But I did have something to tell her. Not some kind of universal truth or anything, just something I’d learned (the hard way) from my own life, and something I was only able to recognize in hindsight:
Sometimes we need saving and it’s okay to clasp an outstretched hand. Even if we can’t expect life to get better, we can get stronger. There may not be many straws left to grasp at, but the idea that we are capable of more, is a straw the carries hope with it. And hope is the only antidote to despair that I know of.
I wanted to tell her that if young people could just believe, not that their situation will magically improve, but that they themselves were capable of changing, becoming better…or even stronger – that they weren’t powerless!……..well, I didn’t really know how to finish that thought.
This all came to me rather suddenly, and since it was getting harder and harder to talk over the professor, I made a few jots in my notebook instead. I had every intention of sharing this sad little piece of unpolished, unfinished, and profoundly inapplicable knowledge with her after class.
However, since our teacher decided to try and scramble my brain by tossing logarithms in with integrals, obligating me to stay after class to inform said professor (for the nth time) that I hate the way the textbook is teaching the material, I forgot.
I saw my young classmate leave the classroom out of the corner of my eye. She had ear-buds in and looked like she had somewhere to be.
This story doesn’t really have a conclusion. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I wish I’d had the chance to tell her that I’d spoken flippantly and arrogantly. It may not deserve a kitten illustration, but it made me think, so I decided to jot, and to share.