dedicated first to everyone struggling just to live another day, thank you for the strength you give this world.
dedicated also to the special people out there who help us through our darkest times. thank you for seeing past our faults and helping us recognize our strengths.
The cool night air settles over you like a blanket, a brisk breeze ruffling your hair and making you shiver. But you barely notice any of that, too focused on the whirlwind of sound within your head. It’s like a never-ending torrent of emotions and thoughts crushing in on you from all sides, and you feel like you’re drowning. But this feeling is not anything new to you, in fact, you don’t remember a time when it wasn’t a part of your life.
It’s extremely difficult to give a name to everything that’s happening in your mind. You compare each thought and emotion to a delicate strand of a spider’s web, all tangled together and easily mistaken for another. But there are some that are distinct in their strength and recognizable in their repeated appearances. You don’t even try to repel these ones, only greeting them as old friends.
It’s late tonight.
You don’t remember at this point; time is relative when you think about it. Time can’t truly measure the quality of a life. Memories do that, memories, thoughts, choices, and emotions. Did you jump up to protect someone else? Did you cheat on that test? Did you spread rumors about them? That’s the way time should be measured, that's the way a life should be measured. Not in seconds or hours, days or months, but in memories made and emotions felt.
You’re up high tonight, high enough that if you jumped, death would be the only thing waiting for you and you’re all too aware of the fact.
Even though it’s the dead of night, the sprawling city below you is still alive with sights and sounds that carry up to your perch high in the sky. It’s quieter now though, even the wildest partiers are beginning to head home, sure to have raging hangovers in the near morning. Tiny pinpricks of light wink up at you from buildings and streetlights and cars below, teasing you with their bright cheeriness. From here they look like stars, distant as them too. For a moment your thoughts wander to the people down there and you imagine yourself in their shoes; imagine the lives they might be leading, and the people they might be. You marvel at the insignificance of your own life compared to all the others out there.
Dejection settles in when it hits you that no one knows what you're struggling through. No one knows how hard it is for you to wear that smile every day and hold your head up like nothing's wrong. No one will worry if you don't make it back to bed tonight. If you disappear in the middle of the night, you know that people might pause and wonder but dismiss their worries just as easily. You can almost hear the thoughts of the people who might find your body if you jumped: They were always so happy, why did they do it?
You already have one foot on the balcony railing before you catch yourself.
You don’t know whose voice it is, but you obey it, freezing with one foot propped on the railing, teetering on the edge. You just know that you shouldn’t follow through with this. Ever so carefully, you draw your foot back to safety, pulling yourself away from that edge. A slip is all it takes for this decision to be made for you, and you take no chances.
You catch your breath as your foot returns to the ground, and surprised tears well in your eyes as you realize what you were so close to doing. A few deep breaths calm your racing heart as you return to gazing out at the city below you.
You barely get a few minutes of this when the door to the balcony behind you slides open with a faint whoosh. So lost in your own mind, you startle at the sound. You let yourself sag against the railing for a moment before drawing yourself back up and making a slight smile lurk at the corners of your mouth. It takes a lot of effort to pretend to be serene instead of sad and you have a feeling that your smile looks more like a grimace. Half of you is relieved that you are not alone, the other half mourns the loss of a solitary night.
You don't know who it is, don't even turn your head when they approach and mirror your position a few feet away. Your mind and heart are divided, not sure whether you want them to stay or go. So you don't say a word, don't move a muscle, not even to acknowledge their presence.
They don't break the silence either, seemingly content to just let the stillness stretch onwards. They've approached from the right, in front of the lamp on the opposite wall and silhouetted against the light. But they stand far enough away from the parallel lamp beside you that their features are still cloaked in shadows. Out of the corners of your eyes, all you can make out is the lithe build of an athlete and the sharp line of a jaw. It's a boy. Or not quite. He's in that in-between time, when a boy's not quite a man but can no longer be considered a boy.
You know him, not well but you met briefly a few weeks ago and you’ve seen him around. When he finally speaks, his voice is quiet, tentative but not weak and there's a firm strain of strength underlying his gentle tone. It draws you in, relaxes you. It's like he has an aura of compassion surrounding him. "Are you going to jump?"
"Of course not." You deny it immediately, just as you denied yourself from going farther than peering cautiously over the railing. Your answer is quick and sure in the way only someone who knows they're right can be. It's instinctive, drilled into your mind over the course of many years. You’ve never allowed yourself to consider it as a real option. A small, traitorous part of you whispers, but what if it can be one? It can be an option if you allow it to be...
You're forced to admit: "I don't know. Maybe."
You wait for the person beside you to respond, hopefully with something suitably profound. But all he says is, "Hm."
It's not exactly the momentous, inspiring speech you were hoping for, but he sounds curious, and non-judgmental. You appreciate that. You feel your smile slip off your face, there’s no reason to retain the illusion if he already knows what you’re considering. In the silence that follows, you feel the need to speak, to fill the quiet that descended over the two of you. You feel the need to explain, to show him your struggles, to find common ground and connect with him. "Part of me is too scared to jump, the part of me that knows that there is so much more of the world to explore. But another part of me wants it, wonders what will happen if I decide to jump..."
"You'll die." He says it so matter-of-factly, you weren't expecting that. Most people rather tiptoe around the subject than confront the truth. Not him though. "If you jump, you will die."
"Would you stop me?" You say it as a challenge, daring him. But somewhere deep down, you acknowledge that you desperately want to know his response. Does he care enough to stop you?
You see his head incline slightly, the slight movement emphasized by the lamplight silhouetting his figure. His voice is cool and sincere when he responds. "Of course I would. But would that help? Or would you just find another balcony to hurl yourself from?"
You're silent for a moment, considering his words thoughtfully.
"I . . . don't know. I want to live, I do." As you say it, you realize it's true. A sudden burst of warmth and certainty rushes through you. Your words pick up pace as you speak, they flow easily from your mouth and taste genuine on your tongue. All at once, everything you've been bottling up inside you is rushing to come out. You speak with more confidence now; you know what you're thinking, and you just say it. "I really, really want to live. There's a whole world out there that I've never seen. I want to explore what this world has to offer, to see and taste and touch and smell and hear everything. I don't want to die, I really don't. But sometimes, well sometimes, I just feel like I need to escape, escape my life, my problems, everything. And then I come here. And, from here, death is so very close. Just a step into nothingness and my life will be stripped away from me. It taunts me with the illusion of peace and just not having to feel, a utopia of sorts.
"Maybe it's fear that holds me back. Maybe I'm just too scared of the beyond, the unknown, to jump." Your voice gets smaller, wavers, thickens. It's hard to talk about this, you've never spoken a word about it before and it’s uncomfortable to be so vulnerable. "I'm scared to face my life, but I'm scared to walk away from it. Sometimes I wonder, is fear the only governing voice in my life? It's so present, always there, a looming shadow. I'm always afraid. I don't know what to do, I never do. And I'm scared."
It's so quiet.
Even the cars, and the lights, and the people below have faded out into the background.
Right now, it's just you and him. There's nothing else that matters.
It's like both of you are secluded in your own personal bubble.
Your breaths come quick and heavy after your speech, the rising confidence and bluster beginning to ebb away as fear sets in.
You're afraid of what he might say. You want to know what he thinks, but you don't.
Minutes pass, at least you think they do. It could be seconds, days, months, or even years for all you know.
You've almost given up on the possibility of a response when he speaks. You’re already turning away from him, choking back shame at revealing this secret, vulnerable part of you.
"I know. I feel it too." He says it so quietly that you have to strain to hear him, finding yourself edging closer to pick up the soft words. He's staring straight ahead; gaze fixed determinedly on the horizon and doesn’t acknowledge your gaze. Those six words flood you with relief and it’s like a weight has been lifted from your chest. Somehow this raw admission of weakness touches you in a way that inspirational sayings never could. Because he understands you. He understands.
That word is so powerful, it means you’re not alone. Maybe he doesn’t know what fears plague you at night, or what challenges you face every day. But he understands how you feel, the emotions that are tangled up in your mind as you go through life. And that is enough.
He continues, still speaking quietly, his voice calm and controlled. "I’ve been where you are, I’ve stood at the edge wondering at what was beyond. I’ve felt what you’re feeling; I still feel it. And I don’t know if it will ever go away. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I’m afraid of what the future may hold. I feel guilty for taking so much from the people I love and leaving them with so little. I’m insecure about my shortcomings and who I am, how I look, what I can do. I feel the nostalgia and sadness that comes with leaving the past behind, wishing those easier times could come back. I know what it feels like, I’ve been there too.”
Your vision blurs as tears come to your eyes and you laugh as they fall. It’s so nice to hear the tangled mess of thoughts in your head laid out verbally by another person. Your cheeks are damp with tears, but you keep laughing because it’s been so long since you’ve been able to cry so freely. Sometimes your heart aches, but despite your best efforts, the tears were always unwilling to come. Now, you can’t decide if you’re happy or sad, relieved or distraught. But what you’re realizing now is that maybe you’re both or neither and that’s fine. Emotions are wild and they don’t always need labels.
He laughs with you, warm and kind, and you know he understands your tears as well as your laughter. A strange sense of camaraderie connects the two of you now, like you’ve known each other all your lives. It’s the kind of connection that is forged of understanding and kindness, but mostly through vulnerability and pain.
The atmosphere of the area has shifted since he arrived from withdrawn stiffness to comfortable openness. There’s barely an arm’s length between the two of you and then not even that as he closes the distance, sweeping you into a fierce hug. You feel yourself begin to shatter in his embrace, tears now coming easier than laughter. You remember feeling this way before: trusting arms like his to hold you together, breaking inside because they don’t. But unlike those people, he doesn’t let you fall apart. It’s like his mere embrace is able to hold you together. You can feel the love and understanding and protectiveness projected from him. He helps you see the strength residing within you that you never knew you had, helps you steady yourself and rise instead of falling. He doesn’t just keep you from breaking, he’s showing you where to go if you fall apart and need to piece yourself back together.
You shake your head disbelievingly as he relinquishes you from the embrace. “It seems so easy for you, how do you do it?”
“Do what?” His head inclines curiously.
“Untangle the mess of emotions and thoughts in your mind and put it to words. Be so calm and collected, disinterested almost. How do you look at the bright side of these things?”
He chuckles now, eyes sad and amused all at once. “How do you do anything? You learn and practice. You just have to realize that you’re mistaking shortcomings for uniqueness and opening your eyes to the possibilities instead of being held back by your fear. It’s a long journey and costs a lot of effort but it’s worth it, trust me.”
And you do, you trust him. You don’t know where the two of you bridged the gap between strangers and friends, or how you grew from friends to confidants. It just . . . happened. “I’ll try my best. And thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He smiles kindly. The smile turns wistful as he looks back out over the bustling city below and his gaze grows distant. It’s as if he’s reliving a fond moment from the past, head inclined in thought. His voice has taken on a faraway tone, almost like he’s no longer all there. “Just…I need you to promise me one thing.”
He’s quiet then, still looking off into the distance. You don’t interrupt him, giving him the time and space to gather his thoughts.
There’s a new solemn light in his eyes when he turns back to face you, though they haven’t lost their spark of warmth. He's slightly hesitant when he speaks again, searching for the right words tentatively. “If you...ever meet someone who’s struggling and has lost their way, someone like you, be the one guiding them back. When that time comes, it’ll be so easy to just walk past them and ignore their suffering. Trust me, I know. But you can’t do that. You may not know exactly what they need from you or understand exactly how they're suffering. But you owe it to display only compassion and empathy, absent of judgement. You cannot judge someone for a life you haven't lived. Listen to them, attempt to understand. You know, pass it on.”
"I don't know if I could do it as well as you," you joke half-heartedly. "But I'll do my best to pass it on."
“Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle.” -Charles Glassman