My father once told me that he envies me, because I can work with people… even “broken” people (and, I think on some level everyone is “broken” at some point in their life). While he is a wizard at things electronic and mechanical, it frustrates him that humans cannot be taken apart and put back together to work in the manner he would like to see them work. I’ve worked in mental health facilities and the staff often referred to me as “the inmate running the asylum”. The counselors would get frustrated that I could connect with the clients in ways that they, with their degrees and case studies could not forge connections. But my role was always administrative, not therapeutic, so all I ever really did was LISTEN and not try to fix anyone. Turns out that listening is a skill that the mental health system doesn’t often employ.
I had a conversation last night that I am still pondering. I have no idea why the person chose to speak with me. I never really felt like I was someone that this particular person had a close rapport with, but the conversation was very intimate (not at all in a romantic way). And although the conversation was all via chat, I could envision the person I was speaking with and I could feel the depth of despair. There is something very humbling about knowing that someone you’ve always seen as being very strong and unwavering has ventured to the very edge and is still standing on the edge of the cliff trying to drown out their own internal voices urging them to jump.
There is something deeply disturbing in the knowledge that someone you see as having an enviable life is dealing with soul-shattering pain. I hate to admit the number of times I’ve thought about how much I’d love to be living this person’s life… and yet, after our conversation, I feel a certain wholeness in contrast to their brokeness.
I’ve realized recently that it can be difficult when you’ve reached a level of “okayness” and the people around you are still fighting and struggling and clawing and gasping to catch their breath before they plunge into the darkness again. It’s a place I know well. It’s somewhere I lived for years and I know I will likely be back there again at some point. I know other people have been there, too and have found their own okayness. And you have the realization that you can only sit and speak in a steady, calming voice but you cannot do anything to tame someone else’s demons. No matter how desperately you want to help, it’s like trying to rescue someone who is drowning. Do you dive in and try to save them (perhaps to be drowned yourself by their struggling) or do you do your best to just keep tossing the rope and hope that at some point they will be able to grab it and pull themselves out safely? I’m not one to walk away when the tide comes in but know that there are some who find my shouting “keep swimming” when they are beyond tired and just ready to let go annoying. There are instances where I still wonder if I had waded in a little deeper if I could have changed the final outcome and it tends to be something I ruminate on strongly this particular time of year.
Sometimes, in the twilight between asleep and awake, I can hear the hoofbeats in the distance. I know that I am playing a game of beat-the-clock. I know that my “okayness” could, in a heartbeat, be gone. And as close as I’ve been, so many times, to pushing the rope away and sliding into the forever darkness – right now I’m not ready to go. I keep casting the rope even as I see the tide rising around me, ashamed that it is partly out of selfishness that I won’t stop trying. I hold onto the hope that the dawn will come, the horsemen will retreat, the rope will keep a head above the dark water for another day and that forgiveness will call my friend back, at least a step or two, from the edge of the cliff.