What appears below was published recently in Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
“It must have been a place so dark you couldn’t feel the light, reaching for you through that stormy cloud.”
Country Music Group Rascal Flatts
In the prior issue of Neighbors (published here on April 12 as “Connections”), I said, “…when a group of high school students was recently asked if they had ever considered suicide, I was stunned to see the number who had.” As I reread those words in late April, I was painfully aware that Dylan James Wagner, a freshman at Batavia High School, found his life so overwhelming that he ended it. In the ensuing weeks, I agonized over our collective inability to put our arms around this young man and help him feel the light—and love—reaching for him through the stormy clouds that defined the tragic moments in his life.
As I reflected on our collective failure, I was reminded of words from William Bridges, author of the book Transitions. “One thing kids need is honesty…a realistic picture of what it’s like to be an adult—that you’re confused so much of the time and frequently really scared. I hear parents talking about setting a good example for their children. Their version means never saying any of that stuff. So we’re producing kids who don’t know what to make of fear and confusion when they encounter it.”
In addition to sharing our fear and confusion, I wonder if living in a more honest world means listening more intensely to our children about how complex and frightening this world must seem. I grew up during the emerging cold war, the proliferation of bomb shelters and school drills to protect us from a nuclear attack. It was scary. But today, terrorism highlights our daily news, global warming is a growing threat, environmental disasters like the Gulf of Mexico oil spill blare for weeks, the cancer epidemic seems to impact every family and neighborhood, war rages in Iraq and Afghanistan and threatens in Korea. Shall I continue? In the face of all that, how does it feel when a young personal world seems to fall apart—a parent yells, a clique becomes brutal, a failing grade appears, a boyfriend or girlfriend breaks off? Do we really know?
I wasn’t given the gift of having Dylan Wagner in my life, but I have come to know and care for hundreds of teens through Operation Snowball, and they have generously returned their love. So my closing thoughts are for them…even though few will likely find me hiding out here in the pages of a community magazine.
Thank you for courageously sharing moments when it was difficult to see the light reaching through the oft stormy clouds that drift through your life. Thank you for listening when I look into your eyes and affirm your beauty and significance.
Through your courage, authenticity and generosity, you have gifted me with some of the most stunning and joyful moments any human could imagine. You have shown me how the tears born of pain can become the tears of joy in a moment of sharing. I now understand how the magnificent beauty of life cannot be teased apart from its darker moments.
Life is difficult. But, if that is all you allow yourself to see, you discount the extraordinary complexity that makes this world so remarkable. Each of us is unique; each lives a life never before lived by another human being. Each is given some glimpse into what it means to be human that has never before been seen and will never be seen again. Through your experience of pain and sorrow, life is granting you the wisdom to look into the eyes of another and say, “I understand something of what life is trying to teach. Allow me to help you find the path forward.”
Whether you can see it or not, the world desperately needs the insight life is trying to share through you. If you will summon the courage to embrace pain and share its ensuing wisdom, the Universe has infinite joy and beauty it is willing to share.