I just found out a girl who lived in my dorm in school committed suicide. I didn’t know her very well, but honestly, what I did know I didn’t like very much. One of my few memories of her was from when my suite stole the stove from her suite. She sent an angry email to the dorm, demanding to know what had happened with the stove.
I responded, saying we should meet with the house mediators and discuss stove distribution because I was not entirely convinced their need for one stove was greater than our need for two. She responded back with a furious email, clearly unaware that I was trolling her. I laughed with my friends about it.
Now, however, I realize she was probably an unhappy person even then. We found her inability to take a joke funny at the time, but it haunts me now. In addition to having no sense of humor, she was also a conventionally attractive girl with a countercultural style. Apparently, she was also extremely good at math, taking on an immense workload while working to pay her way through college. I had no real sense of the person she was, or the type of stress she may have been under, that led her to reacting the way she did to our juvenile behavior.
When I was first told about her suicide, I remember feeling a deep blankness inside me. I didn’t know her well, or have much affection for her, but I just wanted her out in the world, doing her thing. She was supposed to be *there* working hard and responding humorlessly to emails. What does it mean that she isn’t? What does it mean that she’s gone?
When I ask myself these questions, there I just feel the nothing that is her future. I remember watching her as she worked at the front desk doing her work, and thinking unkind thoughts about her. What if I could go back in time, and whisper in my younger ears “she will die when she’s 31.” How would that have changed anything? Would I have walked up to her one of the many times I walked past her and said hello?
It’s easy to forget that your experience differs from somebody else’s. It takes a willingness to accept others–to refrain from judgment, to attempt to learn from a variety of perspectives, to recognize the differences in worthy approaches to life. You might find that the things you hated most–the things that you once rejected based on your pre-conceived notions about reality that give you the greatest strength. It’s not necessarily the “things” that give you the strength though…it’s the acknowledgment that you don’t have to live one particular way in order to “win” at life. When people are socialized and conditioned for one way or another, it gets awfully hard to see the other side of the coin for what it is.
I’ve found that it is important to have beliefs. It is important to make choices for yourself that you can stand by. However, it is equally as important to be willing and able to recognize that the beliefs you adopt at one or more points in your life are temporary–they fit a need for a time and place and the circumstances that came with it. It is unfortunate that you were incapable of feeling for this person. For being selfish and uncaring and perhaps being blind to this fact. Many people reach the conclusion that the only way to protect themselves from being hurt–to make it through another day–is to reject the notions of love. To reject in general. To quietly cling to the fragments of their ego or forcefully exert their perspective on those around them. There is nuance to this that can shape and limit or open your experience. Others soften, and begin to recognize that people are not all that different, and the goals and purposes of individuals oftentimes line up. They begin to realize that the spectres of fear, hatred, and resentment were all self-created, and that the pain that they inflicted on others was their own. Lead others by leading yourself. As the quote goes, “be the change you want to see in the world”.
It’s always both funny and distressing to me when I run into such resistance when I use the phrase “you’re acting like…xyz”. What people don’t understand is that it is not a tool of hate or aggression–it is a call to acknowledge a temporary position or perceived state of reality that is unbecoming of the person I know they are and are capable of being. Sometimes people reach breaking points. It’s hard to set yourself aside. Ego, positions of weakness (a susceptibility to fear), and exhaustion many times leads otherwise good people to act on the auto-pilot that guides so many of the selfish, possessive, resentful human attributes that come into play when you’re not having fun in life. So have fun, and recognize the love that has been given to you. Pay it forward. Really.