So the view today is pretty gloomy if not completely surreal. Today’s thought revolves around the survival of the human spirit and why some can while others fall away in despair. It is a tale of an eighteen year old boy with the world at his fingertips who let his spirit fall away to the ravages of mental illness and a woman so driven to fight cultural and social norms to survive that she clung desperately to the sense of hope and never lost her drive to survive.
Like most writers (and aspiring writers) I take some time to teach writing on the college level. In my case it is at a community college and the students are often a great mix of different types of people with enormously different life experiences and goals. Like many composition classes, we begin with an essay that allows me to get a grip on who the student is. It’s an essay about change and what happened in the pupil’s life that made them different than they originally were.
No matter how many times I admonish my class that they cannot use teenage drama as the inspiration for change, I normally see at least three or four about the trauma of being dumped by a longtime boyfriend or the cheating best friend who revealed their treachery on prom night much to the lasting despair of the heroine of the story. Then there are occasionally others. After reading several pieces of this childish and sometimes painfully boring first effort, I picked up a paper from a student who had recently emigrated from the Sudan. That in and of itself is an interesting journey.
This student shared her history as a child in the under developed nation and being made to feel subservient and inferior in every possible way. She was physically and mentally abused by the males in her family and village because that is what they knew of women’s rights. That they had none. With little access to the outside world, this young lady believed that a better world had to exist. She fixated upon finding a way to escape. She became pregnant at a young age and that only served to feed her desire to leave for the sake of her child.
Cut to the story of the ways she had to work and cheat and steal her way across the continent, the ocean and in the end find her way with nothing in her pocket but hope. Her story read like a Hollywood script. Survival, desire and determination of a young woman hell bent on protecting her child and finding a life for them. It was truly inspiring (and a shame for the others because she set the bar far too high for most of her classmates to even come close!)
Then I look down the street for Ben. This morning he took a lethal dose of a medication that he ordered online in an effort to end his tragic existence. He was successful and his parents found him lying peacefully in his bed, resting eternally and finally at peace. Look at his life and you see the polar opposite of my student from Sudan. He was born into a successful and professional middle class family who acted upon his every wish and desire. No one could figure out why he suffered so much from anxiety and depression but his attitude in school, fear of being in public and sullen behavior caused his parents to seek therapy. He was often medicated and counselled. He switched schools routinely to find a school that would fit his needs and not require an hour long battle daily for him to be cajoled and coaxed into attempting to go into the school itself.
It seemed that he had overcome that fear, he had been attending the school and even discussing life after graduation. Thoughts he had never shared before. Yet there they were, seeing what his parents could only call hope. Inside, however, he had plotted another course to solve the troubles in his head. One that would cause his family eternal pain and end his own. Most kids who kill themselves believe that they are a burden to their family, whether that is a real or imagined concern, to them it is a simple reality. How can someone love me when I despise myself? The storm rages so strongly inside that the outside just appears to be the center of the hurricane. Calm yet ominous. Never knowing when the calm will fade away and be replaced by the rage and horror of the storm.
This morning the eye passed and he was swept away, another victim of the disease of depression. It leaves the question of how we teach this young person to have the will and desire to survive and want for something better. How do we transfer her strength into his feeble body? Can we take a lesson from Dr. Frankenstein and try to capture the lighting in a bottle that would relieve his pain and replace it with her hope and desire? I don’t think so either but one can always believe right?
So today my thought involves looking into those dark windows. Some filled with fear and trepidation but the occupant in the room keeps the shades open and keeps staring at what could be. The other keeps them closed and peeks out, afraid of what is there and not wanting to see it or be seen. Both experience fear but one is driven to hope and the other to despair. Two different windows in the same world. What do you see?