Note: This piece was published recently in the March/April Issues of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
If you allow me a moment of reflection, regret and deep sorrow, I have an invitation to share.
There are times life leaves us wondering and wandering. Where life’s path led me in the early days of 2011, I even felt a bit of a fraud.
Just over a year ago (See “Beginnings”, January 6, 2010) I wrote of an intense experience with a young man who, having witnessed his father’s suicide, was questioning the value of his own life. I spoke of two suicides many years ago that set the stage for the emergence of Suicide Prevention Services where I have been learning to help others deal with depression and helplessness. When I recently reread the words I wrote last year, I realized I spoke with too much hope and far too much self-confidence. As 2010 reached its final moments, this brilliant, caring young man, Dakota Lewis, succumbed to what I can only imagine was unimaginable pain. He ended his life in the final minutes of 2010.
Then, just after 2011 broke upon us, another well-loved, amazing young man, Ben Wilkinson left us, also by his own hand.
In both cases, I, like so many family and friends, am left devastated. I feel helpless, because I, of all people, believe I should have had the skills to help. The words of a year ago seem premature…presumptuous…and, yes, a touch fraudulent. I am left wondering what I might have done, and wandering into the future with less certainty and much greater humility.
In the midst of the pain and confusion, I am offering an invitation. Long before I encountered the heart-rending twists and turns of early 2011, I met a generous, kindly man, Mike McKinley. Mike has been given a life of challenges and pain through which to wander, but, as he encountered life, he found laughter to be his guidepost. Mike speaks to audiences all across America about how to remain focused on what gives life meaning. I liked him the moment our wandering paths crossed.
As a result of our chance encounter deep in 2010, I asked the Batavia Chamber Board of Directors to bring Mike to Batavia. He will be with us Thursday, April 21 to help create a conversation entitled “Laughing Your Way to Success & Happiness…in Life, Labor and Love.”
If it seems a bit incongruous to juxtapose the tragic loss of two beautiful young lives with laughter, I beg your indulgence. I knew both Dakota and Ben. Each of them had internal radar that enabled them to spot other humans in need—even at great distance. And whenever or where ever they found a person battling the darker side of life, they shared a weapon of choice: laughter. Each had the uncanny ability to find a brilliant practical joke, comedic face, or funny phrase to bring a smile to those who felt lost. They will both be in my heart that evening; poking at my funny bone should I begin to feel sad.
We are inviting everyone in the community—young and old—to join us for two events. If you want to meet Mike and purchase an autographed copy of one of his books, we will be at the new Confident Aire showroom at 416 E. Wilson Street from 1:30 p.m. to about 4:00 p.m. Then, at 7:00 p.m. the school district has given us the cafeteria of the Rotolo Middle School to laugh along as Mike challenges us to focus on what animates our lives and makes them such a limited, yet infinitely valuable, commodity.
Join us to rediscover how life, labor and love—while often disorienting and painful—can make the wondering and wandering seem less fraudulent and more like the extraordinary gifts they are.