I was reading a blog last week called Without Wax; it's written by a pastor of a church in Nashville and it's been a nice source for me to listen to sermons online since I can't get out on Sundays to make it to Mass.
On that particular day the title of his blog was "My Heart is Heavy" and he wrote about a man named Phil who had recently committed suicide. He had never met the man, but it was discovered later that Phil had attended his church for a few weeks before taking his life. Of course no one at the church was responsible for not knowing this particular man needed special attention, but it's hard not to look at the "what ifs" in life and wonder what would have made the difference.
I can't shake that story this week, mainly because it brings up the same feeling it does every time I hear someone has committed suicide. The feeling of wondering what could have made the difference.
A guy in my high school class, coincidentally also named Phil, killed himself a few years after we graduated. I wish I could tell you he was a friend of mine, but that's the problem. I knew him. I came from a graduating class of 50 people, so everyone knew everyone else. We were in a speech/acting competition together and did a scene from Our Town. I was never mean to him. I just wasn't a friend to him either.
When we heard he had died a small group of us went together to his funeral. I remember looking at the row of people I was sitting with and realizing that we were all friends with each other, but none of us were good friends with Phil. I knew things about him. I knew that he was great with mechanics... we called him Motor Mergan because he could fix about anything. One day in the hall my friend Katie dropped her calculator and it shattered into a million pieces. Phil picked up all the pieces he could find and reassembled it... but was a few pieces short of being able to make it work. The point is that he took the challenge to try. And he had the mind to figure it out.
Back then, I thought knowing things about someone was enough. I knew things about him but the truth is that I never knew him. I knew he had a couple of friends but I never wondered if he had anyone who took the time to ask him how he was, ask him what he wanted to do with his life, or to tell him that they believed in him.
I know I was just a teenager, but when I hear stories like this it just hits me again that it's not enough to not be mean or to not add to the problem. If I leave someone unaffected then I am part of the problem. It's a lesson that we should all learn as kids in high school, and it's a lesson I don't want to forget now. No one can be everything to everyone, but I at least want to make sure I'm paying attention.
It's easier to say I wasn't mean to him.
It's better if I realize I could have been his friend so the same thing doesn't have to happen again.
It's a life lesson from a life lost.