Note: The following will be published in the November/December Issue of Neighbors of Batavia Magazine. It is reprinted with permission.
“At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient…only the universe rearranging itself.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So too are gifts. I have learned this in many ways, but none more poignant than the hundreds of heart-wrenching moments spent on the suicide hotline with those whose lives became so difficult they contemplated ending them. I am thankful that instead, they reached out for help.
A major portion of training for suicide intervention involves learning how to gently enter a conversation by taking time to connect deeply with the caller, trying to understand what it is about life that makes it so unbearable. We ask, “Why do you want to die?” Through deep listening and empathy—the essence of our natural human ability to truly converse—we build a relationship that allows us, at some sacred moment, to ask, “Would you be willing to share with me, why you want to live?” It is in the ensuing moments that a space opens for a human heart to burst open. A young father in tears says, “I have the most beautiful children in the world. How could I ever hurt them so?” Another will admit “My parents love me so much. If I ended my life, a part of theirs too would end.” Or the person at the other end has already given so much of themselves that they are physically, financially and emotionally drained, and yet they say “I know I still have much to give to the world.” Sometimes a caller will burst into tears and simply exclaim “I don’t want to die!” In those sacred moments it is not only the caller’s heart in which a fissure appears…hearts at both ends of the conversation open to one another. My own tears remind me of my humanity…and gratitude for life.
As a trainer, I have had many volunteers listen as I share moments with humans in need. After one difficult, emotionally-draining call, a trainee said, “Roger, you have a gift.” It was a wonderful, kind and generous thing to say, but if she meant that I have some unique ability, I must demur. It is the essence of what it means to be human to simply sit with another in their moment of sorrow, pain and hurt, and simply listen. We all have that gift, even if some may have forgotten.
Often, after a particularly difficult call—a voyage from treacherous, stormy waters roiled by thoughts of death to a sea ever-so-slightly calmed by a renewed desire for life—a caller will express gratitude for our time together. I will sometimes, in return, tell my fellow voyager they were a gift in my life. It takes them by surprise, and many I fear, don’t believe me. But during our journey they may have reminded me of the life-affirming power of the love between parents and children…or the profundity of the human desire to cling to life…or the elegance and beauty of simple human connection. I am, during those moments, fully immersed in the vulnerable, raw and revealing human condition. It is not possible to take such a journey and return unblessed. The Universe has rearranged itself and I feel far more the recipient of gifts and grace than I am the giver.
Having reached these final words, please know that another gift has just been generously given. Thank you for the gift of sharing these few moments of your life, and perhaps allowing a small crevice to tear into your heart.