Thank you, Dr. Williams, for giving us that daily reminder of self-responsibility over the high school intercom. He was a mediocre principal at a mediocre high school, but he managed to pick a send off quote that was forever ingrained in me. At the time, his send off was a joke; the senior class even made t-shirts with a screen print of his face on it. Yet it wasn’t until years later, when I saw the same quote written on a notepad in the kitchen of my best friend’s mother’s house that I truly understood. The same kitchen where friends and family were gathered to mourn the unexpected but expected loss of a beautiful life. The room was heavy with grief and there was a silence that no one wanted to break. It was painful to look at the faces of her family, the people I love, for too long. So I studied the table, the chairs, the lamps. I studied the molding on the wall until it ended at that notepad on the counter.
“Make it a great day, or not. The choice is yours.”
As inappropriate as it was, I laughed. I laughed because this day was not great and I didn’t have a choice. I laughed because if I had the choice to make this day great, I would take their pain away in an instant.
If I had the choice, I would have taken her pain away in an instant.
But the funny thing about life is that you really don’t get a say in the matter when it comes to what happens to you or what happens to those around you. You see, free will is a beautiful thing, but it is also violent and nasty. Free will allows the people you love to make choices that will only cause pain. Free will allows the people you love to hurt themselves because they have the power to do so. It allows them to hurt themselves when they’ve been underwater for so long that they can’t find the surface. Free will allows the people you love to kill themselves. The only choice that you have is how you react when they do.
So I am sitting here, with a heavy heart and a million questions all leading to why?
Why didn’t she reach out for help? Why didn’t anyone see it coming? Why did she say what she said when she did? Why didn’t she leave a note? Why didn’t she say goodbye?
We know some of the answers to the questions above, whether we’d like to admit it or not. We know why. We know that this life is hard and cruel and relentless. We know that is it not always so easy to just make it a great day. We know that sometimes it is simply exhausting to be alive. Once you can admit that you know that truth, the next step is deciding how you are going to respond.
You can cry yourself to sleep every night. That’s perfectly okay. You can let yourself get stuck on the loop of why and fall into the dark hole of grief. You can crawl into bed and hide from the world because you can’t imagine a life without her. You can choose to stop. And sometimes, that is what you will need to do, for a little while at least. But the world is going to keep on spinning. Time is going to continue to pass and she will still be gone.
So even if it takes every ounce of strength you have, I dare you to get out bed in the morning. I dare you to try find some small, beautiful thing each day to focus on. I dare you to remember her and smile, laugh. The day doesn’t need be great, it just needs to be okay until tomorrow.