the circular runner

suicide in the Mission…grief of a self-centered teacher

In life, observations, teaching & education, writing on February 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I usually try to think of clever titles, but I’m low on clever today.  Looking for uplift?  This isn’t the right post. In honesty, this isn’t the right blog.

I tend to be superstitious, which means that when I have an especially wonderful day–as I did yesterday with my wife watching the whole first season of Downton Abby–I tend to worry that something–some bad thing is looming.  I believe in balance, so if a day is really great, some future day will be shite; that is the way it has to be.  I know this belief makes me neurotic.  Most times I think I’m right, but it could be a self-fulfilled prophecy, or if not that, it could be that I am really looking out for the bad stuff after a good day.  Bad stuff happens every day, but though I feel I better rub my rabbit’s foot twice before saying this, I am a fortunate man, generally.

And then there was this morning.  After first dealing with a “situation” at the agency I tutor for (read, crazy parent who thinks she deserves the world to bend before her)–a situation that at some level makes me fear for my future with the company–I then faced one of those mornings in which the gravity of every single mundane chore known to personkind kept me in close orbit of the hearth (read, I couldn’t get to writing before starting to teach).  When I finally did get to my writing, it wasn’t five minutes before I get a call from a colleague at my main gig, which started out with the words, “Gabe, I’ve got some bad news.”  The bad news in question was that a graduate of mine took her own life last night.  As I watched the somewhat silly (though by no means uninteresting) life-situations of some British people while feeding my face and rubbing my pregnant wife’s belly, a young person I taught (and very much liked) was leaving this world by her own hand.

I am confused with feeling.  Not least of which is this one: my feelings are not very important in the grander scheme of this deeply sad act.  And yet, these feelings are all I have to give.

Sometime in my mid-20s, I knew I was getting older (in a bad sense of the word) because for the first time, the idea of suicide did not seem completely foreign. I can’t say I ever considered the possibility for myself, but I can say that I felt loneliness close to bone and as a result, I was closer to understanding how and why someone would get to the point of calling it quits.  Life can, at times, seem as if it’s too much, as if there is nothing you can control except for your exit out of the mayhem.  Is that  B.S?  I don’t know.  I’m a person of faith, so I should be saying that God makes it better. But at the same time, I hate when people say that because it just seems like silly words.

Maybe it’s impossible to say I understand the impulse to end one’s life if I never truly considered it for myself.  But more than a decade after my deep lonely period, when faced with my student’s suicide, I can say honestly that I am terrified by the hopelessness that I imagine my student felt last night.  I am terrified the way I have been in the past looking at the ocean when it’s storming.  There’s something so much bigger at play than what I can comprehend, and even from where I am standing, I get a sense of that.

Does it matter that I think I get a sense of this awfulness? As a parent-to-be, I feel for my student’s mom.  But how much do I feel?  And what do I feel for my student?

Perhaps, this is proof of the fact that blogs are just extended gazes at one’s navel.  But I feel a need to look at this, so bear with me.  Because here’s another feeling, a more troubling one than the terror I mentioned above.  That terror is external, like a storm.  It can get you, but you have a chance of getting away.  When the fear is internal, no such luck. I am scared because I am looking for more grief for my student and I can’t find it.  I’m actually disappointed by the flatness I feel writing this.  I guess I’m looking for the violins to start playing, something to cue me in on the emotions I should be feeling right now.  It’s a sign of my own self-centeredness or my lack of experience with grief thus far that I’m reflexive about it.  I think I am comparing myself to a made-for-TV sapfest.  I am wondering if I am feeling enough for this young person. I am worrying that I am not.

I want to say that I feel this great sadness for my student and for her family. And somewhere in this heart of mine, I’m sure those feelings are there.  But it’s a mute part, a part that doesn’t want to speak in Hallmarkisms–though when I send the mom flowers tomorrow, you know that I will be sending along some of those cliches as well.  In language, partly because of who I am and partly because I am not the greatest writer, I cannot get the words out to describe the blackness that’s behind this messy post.

Writers are selfish, I think.  Another cliche, but this one might be true.  I don’t know where this leaves me.  As with my titles, I like to end my posts with something clever, but like I said above, I’m low on clever today.


  1. I think your feelings are natural. Sadly, I’ve been in situations like yours more than once, and I’ve known others who have been in similar situations as well. My feelings, and those of my friends, have run the gamut. I also think that there’s pressure in our culture to feel a certain way upon learning of tragedy. There’s real mourning, and there’s Hollywood mourning. When I think of the latter, I think of Essai Morales at the end of La Bamba: his character is so distraught by the death of his brother at the end of the movie that he screams his name to the world. But when I think of real mourning, of real grief, I know that it’s much more complicated, and that feelings take much more complicated forms. There’s nothing even remotely wrong with your reaction.

  2. Your writing communicated the anguish and confusion. I remember the shock of a person’s self-inflicted death and the feeling of numbness followed by a surreal sense of time and emotion. When the shock lifted, the emotions cascaded like bricks. My world was shaken as is, to a greater degree this young person’s family.
    They may appreciate seeing your thoughts and words on a card, knowing someone cares.

  3. First. I AM sorry for your loss and for the angst it causes you as an introspective person. Though I have never known anyone who has committed suicide, I feel I can strongly identify with, or at least get the depth of hopelessness, that would surely be a large part of that decision made. Perhaps, the moral (including your parent role) perspectives you have on suicide intellectually prevent you from feeling strong sadness or deep loss here, because to have them might be an approval of an act you have some judgmental aversion to. Or not. Hope you can come to terms with your confusion of feelings or lack thereof, soon, Gabe.

    • You are kind, and I’m glad you’ve included your name. More than once, I’ve wanted to leave you a message, but didn’t know how to address you. Are you Mr./Ms. Kat, Buddha? Or something else.

      As for the judgment, I don’t think that’s at play here. I have always thought it to be rather perverse when certain religions teach that suicide is a sin. I think my flatness might stem from my lack of empathy, my self-centeredness, or paradoxically, from the opposite of those things. I can say honestly that I have not been the same since I found out. There’s this faint buzz at the borders that isn’t leaving me. I assume it’s grief. I’m just not balling, and I guess I wish I would. Then I’d know what the buzz was.

      In any case, namaste to you, Janet. And thanks for reading AND commenting.


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