Be a Light Against Suicide

  • Published
  • By Capt. Levi Welton, 436th Airlift Wing chaplain

Even during the winter solstice when the world is plunged into darkness, you can be a light against suicide. I want to highlight the need for many of us who celebrate a festive season of lights to not forget our friends and family who struggle with suicidal ideation and depression. According to Boston Medical Center, approximately 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depressive condition which worsens during the winter months. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, those reporting suicidal ideation have doubled.

Suicide has claimed the lives of nearly 100 Airmen in 2020 alone, so it is paramount that we all commit to being a light of hope for another. As Airmen, we’re trained to ask, care and escort (ACE) when we support someone struggling with suicidal thoughts. Ask direct questions about their troubling thoughts and means of harming themselves. Care for them by calmly expressing concern and limiting access to harm. Escort them immediately to a helping resource.

Sometimes, you can be a light for another without even realizing it. My role model, Rabbi Yehuda Ferris, once had a man appear at his synagogue confessing that, just a few weeks prior, he had wanted to kill himself. Ferris had never met the man before and invited him into his office to talk. The man said that he had bought a thick rope and decided he would hang himself in the last place his life had been fully happy: his elementary school. On a Friday night, when school was out, he drove over to Emerson School in Berkeley, California. As he got out of the car, it suddenly dawned on him that the children would return to school on Monday and might see his body before the police would arrive. “I couldn’t do that to them,” he told Ferris. “So, I began walking aimlessly about the neighborhood looking for a secluded place where I could end my life without traumatizing the children.”

Eventually, he found the perfect place. “A small dog park in a residential neighborhood, with a large oak tree in the corner.” As he tied the rope around the branch, his ears suddenly heard the angelic sounds of happiness. He looked up. The entire neighborhood was dark; it was late, and all the lights were off. “But there was this one house across from where I stood that had light and life streaming forth from its open windows,” said the man. “As I peered closer, I saw they were Hassidic Jews. The table was laden with all sorts of delicious-looking food. The guests were singing, laughing and smiling. At that moment, I felt something shift inside my heart.” The man began to cry. He leaned forward to Ferris and stated, “Rabbi, it was a miracle. At that moment, God told me that there was still happiness and light waiting for me in my life.

A tear slid down the rabbi’s cheek as he asked, “Was that house on Claremont Boulevard?” The man’s face went blank. “How’d you know that?” the man said with shock. “I ran away that night and never told anyone what happened. No one in the world knows which block that happened on. How do you?”

Ferris clasped the man’s hands in his own and spoke softly, “My friend, I live in a house on that block across from a dog park called ‘Monkey Island,’ which has a wide, strong oak tree. Every Friday night, we leave our windows open in the hope that the world hears the sweet sounds of Shabbat. And we are the only house on our block that does that. You were standing in front of my house.” One year later, Ferris danced and sang with this man as they celebrated his wedding together.

From darkness to light, from despair to hope, miracles happen every day. During these cold winter days, be the miracle of light for someone else.

For suicide prevention for yourself or a loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) of visit to live chat. This service is free and confidential.