I logged onto Facebook today with a curiosity about a classmate I knew from my teen years. I went to 3 high schools and 2 middle schools, so I know a lot of people from those years. In my search, I got sidetracked by a little post I saw on some mutual friend’s page about an acquaintance I knew from one of those schools in Colorado.
He was never super nice to me. He wasn’t mean, he just wasn’t abundantly kind.
I clicked on his page, curious to see where life had taken him since our years in the same grade. I quickly deciphered through some vague language and heavy posts that he is dead.
He was born five months before me and now he is dead.
Suddenly all the thoughts and feelings I had harbored about him for the past decade seemed abysmally small and tainted with selfish bitterness. I clicked through dozens of tributary posts and tried to figure out what had happened—car accident? Health issues? The more I looked around, the less I learned. No one wanted to name it.
One post read, “I never knew you were in so much pain.”
And there it was.
Suicide, the monster you never want to name because to say it makes it somehow more real, somehow more permanent.
Suddenly I felt guilty, not for anything I had done or said to him, but simply for having those embers burning in the back of my mind for so long, and for such small reasons.
In seventh grade he didn’t laugh at my joke. In ninth, he made some comment about my kickball abilities. Really, Ethan?
It’s an overused cliche to the point that is has lost all umph, but you never know what someone is going through until you get to know them. This maxim regains all its strength when someone you didn’t necessarily care for (for utterly vapid reasons) puts an end to their life.
It’s easy to pile hate on someone from afar, watching their lives unfold on social media and holding onto that one thing that slighted you back in 2006, or whatever it is.
Recently, one of my posts on social media garnered a ton of hate from some folks who disagree with me politically. They didn’t just disagree with my argument in their comments, but piled up a ridiculous amount of hatred on me as a person. I can’t help but wonder how different their responses would have been if they knew that my dad has cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment; my dogs are in the slow process of dying; and I’m feeling increasingly skeptical about the existence of my own life’s purpose. I only say this to point out that it doesn’t feel good to be the recipient of blind internet hatred, yet how many times have I been the perpetrator?
When we carelessly toss hate around the internet, are we remembering that there are real lives being lived on the other side of the screen? That someone in their life might also have cancer, or that they’ve lost a family member? That they are fighting a hundred battles at once—just like you?
I felt convicted by the death of this man. I was guilty of judging him before knowing him; guilty of disliking him without cause. Guilty of focusing on my own pain more than his.
I want to get in the habit of speaking of people the same way I would at their eulogy. If I wouldn’t say it about them after their death, why would I say it while they’re alive? (and moreover, still able to be hurt!)
It’s easy to judge people, be annoyed by them, and cast them aside while they’re still alive. But the moment he passes away (how much more so by his own hand), all we are left with is regret: Why didn’t I reach out to him? Why was I so blinded by my own struggles that I didn’t care one iota about his? Why did I dislike him again; just for a few petty comments?
Everything you held against this person floats away into the ether. It’s like we gain some sort of objective clarity in these moments and are able to see that he was hurting from this event in his past or that struggle, and that’s why he said that off-color thing to me. Suddenly I’m a lot more okay with being offended by him…now that I see how much he was hurting too.
I’m the worst offender when it comes to holding a grudge and feeling offended, but moments like these call me back to some sense of clarity. I don’t want to be a grudge-holder or a judgmental nose-raiser. I want to remember that, no matter how someone comes off on the outside, there may be a thousand demons raging inside their chest.
If we can all try to remember this next time someone is short with us, or offends us on the internet, the world would become just a little more understanding and a little less hostile.
Until that moment comes that all things are revealed and we finally see all things objectively, as they are, not as we mistakenly perceive them, we pray
Maranatha, come Lord Jesus and heal our wounds.