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You have a choice. Live or die. Every breath is a choice. Every minute is a choice. To be or not to be. (Chuck Palahniuk)

As I write this, a family stands in a hospital waiting room, forced to make a decision — the hardest decision. As I write this, a young man who I knew lies in a hospital bed, his chest moving up and down only because of the air forced into his body by machinery. His heart beats because of that same machinery.

Last night, while Jeremy and I enjoyed a quiet dinner, a young man stood in his kitchen, faced his wife, and handed her a note. Apologizing. And then he put a nail gun to his head, and shot himself with it.

Today, they will unplug the machines which breathed for him, which beat his heart for him. Today, he will die by his own hand. His mother and father, his siblings, his nieces and nephews, his wife, will suffer and grieve. His children will suffer and grieve.

The only one whose suffering has ended (presumably — since I cannot know what follows this life), is him. For the rest, a new suffering has just begun.

This young man was troubled. He had a difficult childhood. The people who should have loved him and cared for him either could not or did not know how. He suffered abuse. He suffered. He went without — food, education, health care, love.

He carried this into the rest of his life. He took drugs — bad ones, and a lot of them. I saw him powder narcotic pain medication and snort it up his nose. He drank. He had affairs, recklessly and with the kind of abandon that tells you he’s using them as another way to drown all that hurts him.

He had trouble with the law. And then some more. He did time. He got out, and picked up where he left off. He chased oblivion with the determination of one who’s bent on getting there, come what may.

He fathered a son with one woman. He was not a good father to this son. He was not a good partner to the mother. He left them, and sired a daughter with another woman. Before her pregnancy even started to show, this woman left him, recognizing finally, the danger inherent in the relationship. He found another woman, one who already had three children. They married. And then yesterday, he put a nail gun to his head and killed himself in front of her.

I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me feels relief. Part of me feels sorrow. Part of me pity, part of me compassion. Part of me condemnation, part of me understanding.

I suppose that my feelings about this should be simple, but they’re not. The daughter he never met, and the woman who left him before her pregnancy even started to show? I know them and love them both deeply — they have permanent reserve on some of the most tender parts of my heart.

There was always a shred of hope that one day, he might see what his choices were doing — to him, to everyone around him. Now that shred of hope is gone, and all that remains for the rest of us is the walking forward.

Even before he knew what it was that he attempted to do, he was working to kill himself, in bits and pieces. Even as a child not yet in middle school. He had a nice smile, warm chocolate brown eyes and rich dark hair. And a hole inside him that no amount of pills, or booze, or sex, or danger could ever quite fill.

And someday, I will sit with the woman and the girl. I will try to explain why this man, who should have been a father to her, was not. Where he went. Why he chose what he chose. Why she will never have the chance to know this part of her ancestry, this part of her beginnings. I will try to help explain the unexplainable.

All of that is yet before me, before them. Today, all I can do is pray. That he feels the peace that eluded him his entire life, at last. That he is at rest. That he is finally cradled by someone who feels nothing but unconditional love for him. That he can finally lay down his burdened heart, and know that no matter what has happened to him or because of him, he is beautiful and precious and always was.

I attended and graduated from Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and I – like every woman to pass through those hallowed halls of learning – was required to take a course entitled ‘Search for Meaning.’ The class was four credits – two of which were philosophy-oriented, and two of which were spiritually-oriented. We had two instructors – translation: we had two times four credits of homework for the class, and we ended up christening it all sorts of things like ‘Search for Sanity,’ or ‘Search for my Lost Social Life.’

And despite the workload, it was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. It was a deeply important part of the formation of my growing spiritual and philosophical nature.

Every student to pass through Mount Mary was required to take that course, and despite the differences in content for each section, one requirement never wavered: we all read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. (Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who’s path led him to witness and endure some of humanity’s most horrific acts against its own members (the Holocaust) – his suffering and the suffering of those around him inspired him upon his release to write it out and send it out into the world anonymously. At the last moment, a friend talked him into at least putting his name on the title page. And this short book stands as a testament to humanity’s quest to discover the meaning of life, even and especially amidst great suffering.)

I’ve found myself thinking about that book on and off in the years since I took that class, since I graduated, and a lot of life happened, and a lot of change happened. I found myself thinking about it for a few weeks, so I finally dug it out and I’ve been curling up with it for a few minutes a day since I unearthed it from the depths.

It’s interesting to see the places where I marked the pages. What I underlined then, what I underlined now. The differences in perspective. The ability to see deeper than before, and to catch nuance and meaning in things that all those years ago, I didn’t know would become important.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite parts with you tonight. I’ll let them stand alone, because they speak for themselves.

“When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’”

“…the meaning of life differs from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are real and concrete.”

“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it….The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually this happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis, the symptoms of which were familiar to the experienced camp inmate. We all feared this moment – not for ourselves, which would have been pointless, but for our friends….He simply gave up….and nothing bothered him anymore.”

“We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you….human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering and dying, privation and death.”

I’ve been going through some tough stuff lately, and learning some hard lessons. Revisiting this helped me put things into perspective, and to remind me of some of the things I believe in. It helped me refocus on the core of what I hold to be true in what sometimes feels like a world gone mad. Hope you found something here for you, too.

Um... Yeah. It looks kinda like that for all of us. The comfort is that I'm pretty sure it's supposed to 🙂

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)