A very sad situation in our community has me troubled, and thinking. I don’t feel especially profound – I wish I did – but I’m going to share for whatever it might be worth … because one of the conclusions that I’ve reached is that we really never what will matter somehow.
Earlier this week, less than two months before his 15th birthday, a young man in Oconee County took his own life. He was not a classmate of my own teen but he was close to a number of my son’s friends, known by numerous others. Even with the multiple schools around here, the kids tend to know each other from one thing or another, be that sports, church, dating, whatever.
By all accounts, this was completely unexpected. I hate to even remotely suggest that there’s ever something like this that isn’t shocking — there’s always such tragedy to stories like this — but this seems to have approached unimaginable. He’s been described as a kind & gentle soul, a jokester, full of love and laughter. An avid reader who loved the outdoors, loved animals, an aspiring veterinarian.
And yet …
It’s pretty much impossible for me not to hear about this and revisit my own life, the phrase “There but for the grace of God go I” ringing too loudly in my head. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that I shared much in the way of admirable traits attributed to this young man, not at all. What’s unavoidable for me is the hard but simple realization of what a narrow run thing life can be. And how razor thin the margin can be without many — or any — around you realizing it.
Back in the present, the message that his parents shared with his friends is both heartbreaking and inspiring. I’m awestruck by their courage, and by their willingness & ability to share something so straightforward and yet so critically important. If you take anything away from what I post here, their message is certainly the most crucial:
If you want to honor Ryan, then promise to NEVER think there is a problem that can not be fixed. Everything can be worked out someway…everything. Never solve anything on your own. We just found out that Ryan panicked thinking he had made a terrible choice over a common teen pressure. His life ended for NO reason. There is nothing that Ryan could have done that would have made us no longer love him or help him. He just made an irrational decision. All he had to do is come hug us and tell us he had a problem. We could have worked through anything. Please know that that you to can work through anything. Just talk to your family, friends, teachers, or preachers. Most of all, look out for each other. Do not pressure each other for things you are not ready for. If you are truly a friend, then want the best for each other. It is time to honor Ryan’s life by how you move forward in your own life.
Between their heartfelt words and my own experiences, what I want to say at least started to come together.
Family, friends, teachers, et al … reach out. Be available, be observant, be involved. Always. Don’t assume that everything is just as it first appears. You’ve had a lifetime to figure out how to give signals, how to get people to listen, how to find help … adults, let’s never forget that these young people are still learning how to navigate rough waters, for all their many talents they lack the experience you’ve gathered. And no matter your age, even if a situation is beyond your own experiences, you can still help. Maybe you’re the person who guides them toward safety or simply keeps them afloat until more help arrives, that matters too. Be available – and willing – to make that difference.
Teens, young adults, all of you … reach out. Don’t assume that everyone can see what you’re dealing with. It may feel like it should be obvious but, well, the world isn’t always as tuned in as you’d expect or hope. I’m sorry, it doesn’t mean to be that way, but sometimes it is. Just please don’t confuse people who are frustratingly unaware — or even utterly clueless — as being people who don’t care. Talk to someone, get the help and support that you need … even if you have to grab someone by the lapels and shake them to get their attention. Somebody WILL hear you. Just don’t stop until you find that person, or those people. Please, just don’t stop.