I once worked in a railway station café. By six o'clock in the morning, customers were piling up against the counter. A milky tea, an extra hot Cappuccino, give me one of those bacon things -- my train leaves in a minute, so do it fast! The atmosphere was always frenzied, caffeinated confusion, with the palpable urgency and excitement of innumerable passengers all setting off to different places, to accomplish different things. But everything could stop, sometimes.
Sometimes all the orders, all the pushing and the chatting would cease, fall silent for a moment. A still strangeness would hang over everyone after the announcement rang out. We are sorry to announce that all mainline trains are currently suspended. We apologise for the inconvenience to your journeys.
The announcement would never say, but it was common knowledge among all those who worked in the station what had really happened. A ticket guard would often enter the café shortly afterwards and quietly explain to us that someone had collided with a train. The inconvenience was suicide. The loss of hope, the loss of happiness, of life. Eventually passengers would work it out, or be told what was going on. The majority were visibly moved, upset and sombre, others were angry that they would be late and went about telling everyone who would listen. Taxis were called, replacement bus services set up. As the day went by, now in its slower, greyer way, the station would finally return to a normal schedule some hours later.
Recently, I came across a video about suicide prevention and it reminded me of those days at the railway station, those people who chose not to live another day. Maximus Thor is only 9 years old, but has the voice of a 40 year old. To the camera, he begins...
"I heard some dude yapping in the bank about suicide and this wack ass cracker had the nerve to say that Kurt Cobain was a coward. Now, I got a lot of respect for Kurt Cobain, so you just pissed me off. And don't piss me off while I'm trying to drop off my money. You ain't know nothing about this dude's situation and what he was dealing with on the daily. You probably never had that deep pain that was just in your gut and looked you right in the eye every damn day and smothered every thought that crossed your mind. It's not that he didn't want to live, maybe he just wanted to escape the pain."
When someone takes their own life, whether it be a friend, a family member, a total stranger, or a celebrity, we wish we could have known, that we could have helped find a solution to their problems somehow. Every time I heard the announcement at the railway station, that another life's light had been put out, I desperately wished I could have been at that person's front door that morning when they left the house for the last time. I didn't have any idea what I would have said, maybe I would have just locked my arms around them and begged them not to go, I don't know, but I wanted to believe that their life didn't need to end.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with the creator of the video, Benny Wonka.
"We all face challenges, but obviously some are facing more than others at any given time and it's hard to know who is or isn't in a "super struggle." Often-times they aren't inclined to share their fight of desperation. They fight alone. They tell no one. The world likes winners, so they don't let even those close to them know that it might feel like the plane they're flying is quickly losing altitude."
In the video, and in Benny's conversations with me, the focus is on what we can do, not what we could have done. And the advice is simple: We can be kind. We can consider the impact that our words can have on someone. After all, haven't we all had days when we're only just managing, only just keeping ourselves together, and then someone says something that tears us apart, that makes all the hurt and all the pain pour out? Don't treat people badly, never assume it's okay to be cruel or to ridicule someone -- you're not inside their head, you don't know the power of your actions and words. Benny continued:
"So, should you go through life wondering with every single interaction with your fellow man/woman, "Should I take it easy on this person? Is this one of the struggling ones?" Well. I guess so. I mean maybe, right?
If you use this guide, you might have just the right word of encouragement for that one person who's under a mountain of pain inside. They could be wrapped in fear and you could be that one calm voice. You could be the person who makes them feel wanted in this harsh world. Make them believe that people are reasonable. Make them believe that people are patient. Make them feel wanted here."
Throughout the video, the well-known names and faces of those who have taken their lives appear in various ways. These who we may know something of, whose work we've probably enjoyed or been moved by, they left the world. Hunter S Thompson, the father of Gonzo journalism; Hemingway, the great stylist (and minimalist) of language; Pascin, Kay Sage, Van Gogh, Alfred Henry Maurer, critically acclaimed artists -- the list goes on. Now, Robin Williams has joined the list. Not a list of very important people or celebrities, but simply a human being, who brought joy and thoughtfulness to the lives of others, regardless of how many or how few, before leaving too soon.
Benny lost a dear friend to suicide, his name was Dan and his photo appears at two minutes and thirty-three seconds into the video. "Everything seemed fine," Benny recalls. "He re-assured me that all was good. Later that week, alone in his house, he left us."
Many of us cannot imagine what it is like to look upon death as the only option. But there are those who often silently battle that thought, that desperation for finality, and yet keep going, never showing their struggle. They could be the person serving you from behind the counter, the person who delivers your mail, who rings you up in the evening claiming you're owed financial compensation for an accident, or it could even be your boss. Take away the uniform, the job title, the class, the outward appearance, and you have a human being, just like you and I. They might feel different, alone, like a mountain of incomprehensible responsibility hangs over them and they may see no way out of their problems.
We can't know what is in someone's head, but we can be kind, we can treat people with respect, we can try to improve someone's day, it could be a smile to someone who, deep down, feels invisible, or a compliment to someone who feels incompetent, or a favour to someone who feels worthless.
"And all y'all out there that are struggling, I think you're the bravest folks around. Keep it up, homie. Keep fighting. Keep trying to find balance in life -- every day."
-- Maximus Thor
There are so many people out there who want to help. Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your feelings, people want to make things easier for you. Some of them can be found here: