A popular story that has circulated the internet since dial up was popular is the tale of the young boy who noticed a classmate carrying home all of his books. In some versions of the story, the classmate drops the book and the young boy hurries over to help him pick them up and then helps him to carry them home, in other versions he simply walks up and offers to help him carry them because they look heavy.
In the story the two boys become best friends, the original young boy becoming a popular high school football star and the classmate becoming one of the study hard kids in class, but after the initial meeting where the first boy helped the classmate, they become and remain friends.
At the end of the tale, the classmate becomes valedictorian of his graduating class and states in his speech that he had intended that day to take his own life until he met his best friend who unknowingly approached with kindness and helped him at the right moment. He says a lot about the one act of kindness and the always growing friendship the two continued that had kept him alive to the point that he could stand up and give this speech at graduation.
As someone who has contemplated and even planned my own suicide on more than one occasion, even paraphrasing this story brings me to tears, because I can relate. Some of you may be able to relate as well. Whether it was someone that smiled and said hello when you were feeling invisible, or a phone call coming in at the right time reminding you that you’re loved, or a song playing from a CD saying “Hold on” and catching your attention at just the right time, something stopped you. And because that something or someone stopped you, you feel forever indebted to them. Even when times are hard, you’ve found a new direction in life, just like I did, just like that valedictorian from the story, and just like many others.
So why the hell are you averting your eyes away from others when you see them on the street? Why is it so difficult to reach out to a woman stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire and clearly in distress? Why is it when we see people that seem angry we shy away, afraid of them going off on us? I’m not just asking you, I’m asking me too. I do it all the time. I owe my life to an amazing friend and a band whose members I will likely never meet for just singing the right words in a song, yet most days when I venture out, I fail to follow basic human courtesies toward others and show kindness where it’s clearly needed.
So, to myself and to all of my fellow survivors of the suicide rut… let’s change it. Stop averting your eyes from others, make eye contact and give them a smile. Pull over and ask that lady with a flat tire if she needs any assistance. Smile at the angry person in the grocery line and compliment their shirt just to get their mind off of whatever it is that has them angry or frustrated.
In a survey of suicide survivors, 9 out of 10 realized after they committed the act they thought would kill them that they did not want to die. A separate survey revealed that at least 7 out of 10 stated that if just one person had smiled at them or shown them some kind of kindness, they never would have tried to begin with.
So be that smile, that one act of kindness for somebody today.
The smile you offer today could be the beating heart of a stranger tomorrow.