He had cleaned out his locker so he could go home and kill himself. He squeezed out the front door of his junior high school carrying a pile of books, two sweaters, a baseball bat, a glove and a small tape recorder (remember those things?). Of course, it was too much and he tripped, objects scattering and clattering everywhere. For a moment, he just lay on the floor as the crowd walked all around him, avoiding and ignoring him. Hot tears sprang to his eyes and he gritted his teeth. He just had to withstand the shame one more time before he could make it home, take his mother’s sleeping pills, and escape the world which had rejected him.
“Hey, you ok?”
The boy looked up, swallowing his tears quickly. A classmate he had never spoken to before was kneeling down next to him and had already begun to gather his fallen objects. “Let’s do this together,” the classmate flashed a friendly smile. A few minutes later, they were walking home together, where they would laugh, play games, become friends, and years later their story would be published by John W. Schlatter in the 1993 “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book as the moment when a simple gesture saved a life.
What I love about this story is that it flies in the face of so-called conventional wisdom. So often, society seems to peddle the notion that one must wear a red cape, have statues erected in our honor, or hang medals on our wall to be considered an agent of great change. But a so-called simple life can be resplendent with gestures of greatness. As the Chassidic master, the Baal Shem Tov, once said, "For 70 or 80 years a soul wears and tears just to do a favor for another."
Especially now, as we shelter behind the walls of online interactivity, these touchpoints of human connection are all the more important. As leadership guru Simon Senik wrote, “Trust isn’t formed in meeting rooms or in conference calls; it’s built when we’re able to connect on a personal level outside our normal work obligations.” Dr. David Dozois, a psychology professor at Western University, talks about how even “micro” connections, like face-to face small talk at the gym or with other casual acquaintances, are a strong component in bolstering mental health resilience and helping us, “recognize that we’re connected to a bigger picture, a larger group, a sense of community.”
We don’t need to be rich, famous, good looking, or super powerful to live a life of greatness. With all the pandemic, geopolitical and personal dramas in our lives, sometimes all we need is to reach out and check in with our people, with each other. That could take the form of texting our coworkers, calling an estranged loved one, or simply picking up the proverbial fallen books of our neighbor. In this we can save lives and, as the American hero Brig. Gen. Charles McGee of the Tuskegee Airmen was wont to say, “Rise above adversity.”
If you feel that life is not worth living, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The call is free and confidential, and crisis workers are there 24/7 to assist you. To learn more about the Lifeline, visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org where you can live chat as well.