Eleven Years - A Meditation on Tragedy
"Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it." – Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling)
The things that stick with me the most are the things I should have said. It’s been eleven years since my best friend committed suicide, and I still think about it, though now I will admit that it’s much less often than it used to be. Now, it’s more of a fleeting notion, a pang of ghost pain, but there are times that the memory still gives me pause. Maybe something I could have said would have stopped the tumultuous dark wave that was about to break over me and everyone who knew and cared about him. But, I know that is bullshit. I no longer blame myself for being blind to the pain that was easy to see in hindsight, and I no longer feel anger at the foolish notion of believing that suicide is selfish.
For those of us who are left behind in the wake of a suicide, or any traumatic life event for that matter, you would think the years would add a kind of mental armor, and in a sense, I think it does. Time adds perspective, and maybe that’s just as good. Though some days it feels like you’re going backwards, getting caught on snags you didn’t even know were there: a particular look someone gives you, a song that comes on the radio, a smell you randomly catch a whiff of, that type thing. But what was done is done and there is no going back to change anything, no matter how many times you go over it in your mind. All that seems to do is help you remember the pain, and that can be a very bad thing. In fact, for some people, it is the worst thing you could do. I’ve found that it depends on what you are able to do with that pain. You can magnify it, which is normally the case, making it bigger than it once was, transforming it into a self-destructive monstrosity that will consume anything and everything you hold dear until you’re utterly paralyzed by it. Or you can make something good come from it.
I began this post with a Dumbledore quote, because J.K. Rowling had so much truth within the Harry Potter books that she changed the world with them. Another quote from those books that has really resonated with me through the years is one that you might be familiar with. “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Dumbledore told this to Harry in his first year. That statement could equally apply to nightmares. Some of us get addicted to the pain in a sense, keep going back to it to feel it again and again in some weird, masochistic sort of way. I feel that the reason some of us keep going back to that pain, is not because something is wrong with us, but because we have something we need to do with that pain, although so many of us have no idea where to start.
I never gave much thought to the notion of alchemy. I always pictured some old wizard mixing boiling potions, trying to turn lead into gold, or something like that. It’s kind of like how refuse used in compost will eventually transform into fertile soil in which so many beautiful things can grow. Our brains work that way as well. We get caught up in our own pain from time to time, but I think, ultimately, we are supposed to surpass our pain. Allow it to settle and feel it, but then begin to observe, and carefully deconstruct that pain to its molecular level and create something useful from it and perform a kind of mental alchemy.
Suicide is a horrible reality, but we’re not helpless within the aftermath of it, or any other type of trauma. In a world that is pummeled endlessly by turmoil that is magnified by the twenty-four hour news cycles, social media, or any place with a lit screen, really, it can be challenging to find any sort of escape. However, that’s the kind of pain will make you stronger, though there will be days that you will seriously doubt it. It’s not going to just evaporate in an instant. It sounds cliché as hell to say, but in those times of revisiting that pain we need to stop, take a breath, then listen, and look inside ourselves. Being a strong proponent and practitioner of mindfulness meditation for over ten years, I can honestly say that it is through those five- to twenty-minute sessions that I’ve come to find blissful moments of clarity in the midst of utter despair. Those moments of clarity also reminded me to stop ignoring my inner child. As a kid, I used to write all the time but I gave it up in my teenage years, yet whenever anything horrible happened or if I just felt bummed, even when I was in a band, I found myself writing it out in stories.
So, my advice to you…
Write it out.
Paint it out.
Sing it out.
Play it out.
Whatever you need to do, just don’t wallow in that pain forever. It is temporary, after all. The quote I opened with pretty much sums up how I feel about words and our relationship with them, but it can work with any creative way of communicating what’s inside all of us. All we need to do is open up to higher possibilities, then do what comes from the heart, because it’s all there, you just need to reach in and touch it.
In loving memory of my brother, Chris Litwhiler
March 1st, 1986 – September 12th, 2007