As our culture reels from the shock of the news of the apparent suicide of yet another famous and successful celebrity, it seems fitting to ask some questions.
Like most of us, I have been tremendously entertained by Robin Williams and his unparalleled gift for humor. I was equally enamored with several of his less humorous performances in movies such as “Dead Poets Society.” He was brilliant. But his death begs many questions for which there are simply no answers.
The truth is that it’s too late to ask most of those questions – at least to ask them of him. But there are people all around us every day that struggle with the same emotional illness that led to such a tragedy.
It always seems that, when someone famous and rich and successful makes such a decision, we are outraged and grieved and heart-broken – and rightly so. But what can we do?
We can start talking about the stuff we don’t talk about.
Having battled depression myself, I have come to recognize that we all are susceptible to such things. While some are naturally more so than others, there is no particular personality that is soundly exempt. But I also believe that we are also much more capable of recognizing the struggles of those around us than most of us ever really do.
I would not dare to suggest that people close to someone who has been so hopeless as to take their own life should have done something differently, but I believe I have come to some small piece of insight into what we might be able to do to help those near us and ourselves to stay away from that dreadful precipice.
First, we have got to pull our heads out of the sand of our own self-absorption. Look around you. See the people you interact with and pay attention to what is happening in their lives. Talk with them and learn about them and listen for the cries of their hearts – BEFORE they get so ill that they would bring themselves harm.
We must also BE REAL. When you’re hurting, say so. When you’re having a hard time, admit it. We hurt no one as much as we hurt ourselves when we foolishly insist we’re fine when we know it’s a lie.
Do the hard work of becoming a real friend to someone. Show them day by day that you care for them no matter how messed up or stupid they may be at any given moment. Don’t tell them their foolish decisions are ok, but don’t alienate them for it either.
One of the most crucial things I think we have to do – and I mean this especially for my “got-it-all-together” religious friends – is to stop looking down on people as though they are somehow less than us because they suffer from mental or emotional illness. Stop telling them to snap out of it and just cheer up. Stop thinking that if they just had enough faith it would all be better.
The same people who look down their noses at those with emotional illness and have to take some kind of medication for it somehow don’t have a problem taking Lipitor for their cholesterol or Metformin for their diabetes Cialis for…well, you know.
My friends, we all have issues. (If you are having a hard time figuring out what yours are, I suggest that arrogance is a likely candidate.) My question is this: why do we always think that others’ issues are worse than ours?
As a folllower of Jesus, I am called to live a life that is not so fixated on myself. In fact, Jesus summarized the entirety of the Old Testament Law in this very simple statement:
…“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
We are called to love God with all that we are – and in doing that, we begin to see others through Him. When we see others through His love – as people for whom Jesus bled and died – it WILL change the way we treat people.
Father, help us to learn to love people – actively, intentionally, unflinchingly – and let us do so before they get to a crisis. Help us to see the hurt in those around us and learn to enter into that hurt in such a way that they know they are not alone. Help us see them through Your eyes and to love and value them as You do.