. . . .it’s pointed at my head. Give me one good reason not to pull the trigger.”
“Because I don’t want you to.”
That’s all she said. Just, “Because I don’t want you to.”
I was in my late 20s when I heard this story on the BBC. A woman had answered her home phone one evening and on the other end of the line was this desperate man. Apparently he thought he was dialing his brother, whom he hated. Instead, the wrong number led him to a very calm, compassionate, ordinary woman. A wife, a mother. She simply responded from her heart.
“Because I don’t want you to”.
Oh my goodness!
I was haunted by that news story. The woman, and the man who credits her with saving his life, were reunited in the interview as they re-told the story from their own perspectives.
The man said he felt heard for the first time in ages. Even though he had no idea who this woman was, it mattered to him that she did not want him to pull that trigger. He was pulled in by her presence.
From her perspective, she was stunned. What on earth else could she have said? She answered initially, she says, purely selfishly. The last thing she wanted was to hear that gun go off. It terrified her.
They had spoken for nearly an hour. She began to understand the man’s pain. He began to trust her with his story. After time, the man had allowed her to take his real name and address. She had kept him on hold, gone to the neighbour’s house and asked them to call the police to attend to a suicidal man (this was long before cell phones). The woman was on the phone when the police arrived. The man received help. He was now still alive, and gratefully so.
I was stunned.
What would I have said?
This story is what ignited my passion for figuring out how to be with another human being, no matter what they felt. I wanted to never feel stuck or tongue-tied in the face of another’s pain. I started volunteering for the then King County Crisis Clinic ; amongst many skills I learned how to handle suicidal callers and eventually I co-taught that component of our training. I went on to get a Masters in psychology at Seattle University and the rest, as they say, “Is history”!
Fast forward about thirty years. It’s a beautiful autumnal post-Easter morning here in Auckland. Back to work after a lovely 4 day Easter break. And there in my in-box was this message:
I never would have imagined in a million years he’d take his own life, but that’s exactly what he did…. After he left Iceland and went home to the UK to be with his mom and family for the holidays. I really have no details on how or why, but he did leave some letters, I assume for his family.
And so I heard that my most itinerant friend “Sketch” (Simon Ellis) had taken his own life.
I met Sketch in Costa Rica in the summer of 2010 – we’d stayed at the same small hostel and I’d been fascinated by his travels. He’d been on the road for over a year back then and had no end-date in mind. Managed his life and finances to live lightly. Last I heard he was leaving Iceland mid-December.
As far as I knew, Sketch was healthy, utterly alive, zesty, planning, adventuring, staying connected. And now poof. Proving once again, you never know what another human being is dealing with. Did I miss something in his letters? Was he running away from something? Could I have been more aware and helpful?
In memory of Sketch, I’m dedicating this week’s blog posts to suicide. Not sure how things will evolve, but I plan to cover at least these issues, and maybe more:
- Suicide – the facts
- Who’s at risk?
- Signs to watch for
- What you can do to help another
- What you can do if you feel suicidal
- After a suicide
Take care out there. It can be a rough and lonesome world.