April 18, 2014

The Dumbest Question of Them All

A little over one year ago for the kid barely in his twenties.

A month ago for the forty-nine year old rock star’s girlfriend.

Barely a week ago for the twenty-two year-old entrepreneur.

Come July, it’ll be seven months for the thirty-some year old mom of little ones not yet in their teens.

Sometimes death by suicide makes headlines. Sometimes, the loved ones drowning in its wake are the only ones who know about it.

When it’s a headline, count on news anchors to assume a pseudo-sad tone as they report the tragedy with heads cocked to one side, staring through the camera’s lens and into the eyes of whoever is on the other side, and asking


…and then moving on to the next news bite for popular consumption.

"There are such things as dumb questions,
and in suicide’s shadow,
Why is the dumbest of question of them all."

Answers to Why are never productive. They don’t restart the heart, cause oxygenated blood to course through the body to the brain and restore the chooser of death to life again.

Answers to Why are never justifiable. What justifiable answer is there for parents who find themselves suddenly childless, or for little ones who will never get another kiss to make a boo-boo all better? Are there any answers to Why that makes anyone say Ah, yes, now it makes sense. Death over living is a wise choice indeed. 

Of course there aren’t.

So I don’t ask. My gut’s ache doesn’t leave room for asking Why because it’s too busy churning at the thought of personal demons chasing someone to the end of a rope, bottom of a prescription drug bottle or gun barrel’s end.

It aches, not because of the senseless, tragic nature of death by suicide, and not even because it is the ugliest possible side of life, but because I’ve seen suicide up close and personal…and I remember.

What I Know
I know what it’s like to circle the drain and end up in a puddle of gooey despair and have it completely envelope me.

I know what it’s like when utter darkness blinds and deafens all senses into believing that not existing is the most logical option. I know the EMT’s expressions after checking your vitals and realizing there’s a hair’s space of time between your existence ceasing and you opening your eyes to another day.

Post-partum depression? Nope. It happened years before my husband and daughter. At a time when, even if Rochelle of the future could’ve come back and shown me a glimpse of how wonderful life would be in a few years, I wouldn’t have believed her.

But you’re a Christian. You betcha. I am now and was then. Just lean in a little closer and I’ll tell you a secret: Christians get tired, hopeless and lost sometimes too.

But you seem so strong and happy. Here’s another secret: Strong is overrated. Oh, I understand that Strong is a compliment of resilience and never-give-upped-ness. But sometimes admitting weakness can be another kind of strength. And Happiness? Meh…Peace trumps happiness every time.

And now you’re probably confused like I would be if I was reading this. And you’re probably asking yourself: Why?

Photo Credit John Young, cutcaster.com
Why Ask
Don’t feel badly. It’s easy to end up at Why. If I’m being forgetful and removed from where I’ve been and what I know, I’d be asking the same thing.

But then I’d get quiet and honest with myself and remember that Why’s answers are never satisfactory, and they certainly won’t resurrect anyone. I’d remember and feel in my gut where Why – mine and yours — lives.

It’s a twisted place where I remember dying being a reasonable option to living. A dark place where the deaths by suicides of people around me still sting, and whispers...

How far away from that choice is my co-worker, my spouse… my child?

Who else is shouldering invisible burdens?

The Not So Dumb Questions
Why lives in these dark places and begs for other, not-so-dumb questions whose answers...

...examine the relation between suicide and mental disorders like depression versus its relation to money, relationships, happiness and spirituality.

...make people aware of suicide’s signs and symptoms.

...draw attention to larger issues of undiagnosed mental illness; or, depression occurring more often in women than men; or, that a lifetime of struggling with depression can begin as early as nine-years-old.

Who knows? The right questions could yield answers that might prevent the next Newtown or Fort Hood, or the next childless parents, or the next motherless kids.

Between what I know from that long ago time and seeing what survivors of people lost to suicide go through each day, I think those are the kinds of answers we’re really searching for.

But we can never get to those answers if we keep asking the dumbest question of them all.

April 4, 2014

Less Buts. More Ands.

But. It’s the lovechild of Truth and Denial, second cousin to Nevertheless.

A simple three letter word that takes up less than a half-inch of nine point Arial font. Easily read and pronounced unlike the billion dollar, multisyllabic words. And so we use it a lot. Maybe the sheer convenience of But is why we default to it so often. At the same time, And - another short, easily recognizable word - is used sparingly.

I can’t help but think the world would be a better place with less Buts and more Ands.

With But, everything is a mutually exclusive event, and everything is an either/or proposition.
This pot roast is good, BUT it needs a little seasoning.
Can’t you just see crotchety Aunt Sally (or whoever is notorious for critiquing your meals) grimacing as her words mask her intent to say your pot roast is barely palatable and far beyond the help of a little seasoning?

And, on the other hand, is a connector. In the land of And, things happen in tandem and mutually exclusive events don’t exist.
This pot roast is good AND it needs a little seasoning.
Just reading that, I can practically smell the rich, earthy comfort food aroma of gravy and beef, and see a cozily lit kitchen with windows fogged from the oven’s warmth. I hear my husband anointing his blessing on this comfort food, salt shaker in hand, and I feel good about the many hours that I…um, I mean, the slow cooker put in to make it.

Now that’s just dinner and a little salt.

Other times an And instead of a But could make the difference in self-esteem, the way parents and children relate and lessen heartbreak’s blow.

I think of the insecure teen.
You’re so smart, pretty and funny, BUT you need to lose about twenty pounds.
All she heard was that she’s fat. But erased the compliment that preceded it. All of it.
And might have helped her fully accept all the good and soak it in. And maybe that would help her believe in herself enough to work on losing twenty pounds. Or maybe to like herself just the way she is.

I think of the worn out parent.
I love you, BUT I’m really mad at you right now.
Hey mom, all Emma heard is that you’re mad at her. She didn’t hear the love part, and she thinks she needs to be the perfect kid so you won’t be mad anymore…and so you’ll love her.
And might’ve helped her understand that being upset doesn’t mean you stop loving.

I think of jilted lovers.
I’ll always love you and we’ll always be friends BUT right now I want to see other people.
Guess what? The whole part that came after the BUT, that’s all you really wanted to say...isn't it? Well, believe me, your soon-to-be ex heard it loud and clear because everything in your pre-BUT speech sounded like every adult in every Charlie Brown special: wahmp-wahm- wahm-wahm-wahm-wahmp.

But. A tiny word, so simple and unassuming, yet so potentially dangerous.
We use it without thinking of the power it holds as an eraser of the positive.
We add it into conversation as causally as we would a pinch of salt in boiling water, without considering its impact on feelings or relationships.
We use it as a lubricant to casually slide in our real message when we don’t have the guts to come out and speak our truth.

Just using And more often instead of But would force us to choose our words carefully, AND make us think about the real message we want to send AND be truthful enough to say it, even when the truth hurts AND if that happened, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

I think so.

March 31, 2014

Reminders from the Mallard Duck Couple

There is no perfect time. There isn't a certain time when things settle down or the pieces all fit together. Things are what they are when they are.

The Mallard Duck Couple already knows this, as did all the other Mallard Duck Couples before them, I suppose. I only know this because I watched them as we walked by a narrow stream.

Standing in the stream's current was a hip-wadered fly fisherman.

Oblivious to water bubbling over rocks, gurgling past driftwood and moving through and around his hip waders, he gracefully cast and re-cast lines creating more ripples on which sunshine could dance.

That's when I noticed the Mallard Duck Couple. They weren't faring well in the current as fly-guy was. Beneath the water, their little orange feet were visible, and paddling fast and furiously against it, even as their bodies couldn't help but bob and dance along atop the water to the stream's rhythms.

But soon, their feet joined their bodies and gave in to the waltz, and they stopped paddling. Not with freak-out quacking. Not with a frantic "we're outta here" flight away. They chose to stop, to allow the stream to carry them until the current slowed down a bit. When it did, they calmly paddled out of the current and over to the place they wanted to be.

For good or bad, currents aren't just a part of life. Currents are life, including sickness, lippy eleven-year-old-girls (ahem), illness, working because you have to not because you want to, and any and everything else that keeps you up at night.

But there's also the good too: the smell of coffee brewing on a Saturday morning, listening to your child gab on the phone and remembering it was only a few years back that she learned her first word, laughing so hard your stomach aches, when your husband reaches for your hand just because..and of course, good hair days.

The Mallard Duck Couple has it right.

Life's currents can't be stopped; and sometimes paddling against them is necessary. Other times, you've just got to have sense enough to let them carry you until you're able to waddle off to the place you wanted to go in the first place.

March 16, 2014

Paper Plates and Cabbage

We needed paper plates. Not one thousand paper plates. Just enough to tide us through the days when we don't feel like washing dishes. That would be a quick trip to Walgreen's. From parking, to running in, to checking out, it'd be ten minutes. Tops.

Which is perfect, because despite my near constant presence at The Store, capital "T" capital "S," I hate shopping. From making the list, to scavenging for items matching the coupons painstakingly clipped, to throwing the stuff in the cart, to waiting in the checkout line, to lobbing the stuff from the cart onto the conveyor belt, to stuffing it all into the car, to hauling it into the house, only to pack it away where it magically disappears into the cupboards, fridge and freezer: I loathe shopping, and also, especially The Store, capital "T" capital "S."

Doesn't help that the place is one square block, and nine times out of ten, if I'm there for even four things, all four things are in opposite corners of the square block.

After hopping into the car for the ten minute Walgreen's trip, I remembered: We need cabbage for St. Patty's Day. Walgreen's has a lot of stuff, but cabbage definitely isn't one of them. No. That's a job for The Store, capital "T" capital "S.

What about the gas station? They have plates, right? And cabbage? No. No the gas station does not have cabbage, and if they did, I have a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn't want it anyway.

Once I was done banging my head on the steering wheel and a series of choice words, I headed to The Store, capital "T" capital "S" and began my one block amble for two items that were, expectedly, located in opposite ends of The Store.

Item 1: Cabbage. Done.

Photo: Joshua Minso, Cutcaster.com
Item 2: Oh, wait! Pineapple's on sale? I'll just grab one of those. Oh, and do we have carrots? Well, you can never have enough carrots. I'll take two bunches. 

Now onto...
Item 2: Paper plates. Done.

At just over thirty minutes, I was done. Almost. Because that's when I thought it would be a nice treat to make homemade mint green shakes since swinging by McDonald's for the annual Shamrock Shake was out of the question by this time.

Forty five minutes later, I finally reached the Promised Land: the checkout line, only there was no line. I did a happy dance and grinned in response like I had just pulled off the greatest heist in history.

One, by one, as each item plopped onto the conveyor belt, I reviewed them to myself: Pineapple. Carrots. Paper plates. Green shake stuff. Cauliflower.

Cauliflower? Why the? What the? Where's the cabbage?

I'll never know why I picked up cauliflower instead of cabbage. All I know is that it's most likely in the corner opposite of the cauliflower, and that I'll be back at The Store, capital "T," capital "S" sometime tomorrow.