Many years ago, I knew a really annoying kid.
Ok, strike that, at the time, I thought he was annoying.
There’s a difference,
I remember though, that he didn’t have many friends.
I think he once tried to be my friend, but I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to be ‘contaminated’ among my peers, by hanging out with someone so uncool.
I don’t know if he ever felt the sludge of my rejection, the way I rolled my eyes when he came near, the way I purposefully avoided him.
Looking back now, years later, I’m ashamed of the way I consciously stayed away.
I’ve tried to tell myself, ‘kids are mean…that’s what they do, before they develop proper emotional intelligence’. But in reality, I was raised better than that. It wasn’t till later in life, when I experienced rejection myself, that I learned how painful it can be.
But at that point in my life, loaded down with the impossible teenage burden of trying to be accepted among my oh-so-cool peers, I chose the lower road.
Years later, I learned that the boy-I-didn’t-want-to-be-friends-with had grown to be a man and in his 20s, had committed suicide.
When I first heard the news, all I could think about was the time I ducked behind a wall to avoid him. Did I, little by little, contribute to him having a life where no one liked him, leading him to make such a sad and devastating choice?
I’ll never know.
The reality is, he may well have struggled with mental health issues or been in a situation he thought was out of his control. It is quite possible that even if I had been his friend, I still could not have prevented it.
This story has been on my mind recently, as a few days ago, I discovered that an acquaintance of our family had also taken his own life.
I only met him a few times, when he’d been at my parents’ home. He was going through a really tough situation and would chat to my parents about what he was experiencing.
Later, when both my parents were ill, he sent me a message to ask how they were.
I don’t think I replied. I had so many (wonderful) messages that it didn’t land on my ‘priority list’.
Such a shock then recently, to discover he’d taken his own life.
When I was told, I just kept thinking about the message I didn’t reply to. Was he reaching out? Could I have changed things? Again, I’ll never know.
I started thinking again about the boy in my youth and I also started thinking about how Jesus always had time for the people no one else noticed.
He noticed Zacchaeus up a tree, he noticed the woman with internal bleeding, he went out of his way to free a demonised man, who’d spent his whole adult life, living naked in a graveyard.
Jesus was out-of-this-world popular. Everyone wanted his time, his healing touch and yet he seemed to go out of his way, to reach the people that no one else noticed.
Today, as I think back to these two people who ended their own lives, I wish I’d paid more attention.
Could I have changed things? Maybe.
But the example of Jesus is unavoidable. And it admonishes me and shows up my failings.
Jesus noticed people. Not just the convenient, easy-to-know people at the front of the crowd. He took time out to go after the untouchables, the ones no one liked. He took time. He listened and he had dinner with the people no one else had time for.
Is there someone you need to listen to, today?
Don’t wait, until it’s too late.