Sunday, January 22, 2017

You know those moments when something happens and you literally can’t believe that it just happened? You can’t really believe that it’s reality? I had one of those moments fairly recently, and I’d like to tell you about it.

My family and I had recently started spending time with a new group of people. They all seemed nice enough, though there were enough offhand comments made in the wake of the then-upcoming election for us to know that our political views differed. I was ok with that. I have always been a pretty open minded person and give people the benefit of the doubt. I think differences are a good thing and would never base a friendship on something as inconsequential as personal politics. It’s people’s actions and the way they treat others that show what kind of person they are, after all.

In this new group, there was “That Guy”. You know him. Every group has one. He’s the guy that’s going to say what no one else will. People let him because part of the time they agree with him, part of the time they are simply amused by him and his outrageous mouth, and part of the time it’s because they’re afraid to say anything, thus becoming the target of his unpredictable rhetoric. We all want to fit in, right? If we really get honest with ourselves, isn’t that a basic underlying desire that drives a lot of behaviors, and is the root of many demons for many people?

I also feel the need to clarify that I am not a person that gets offended by every other thing. I just don’t care enough about a lot of things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of life to get my panties in a wad over everything. You do you, I’ll do me. If that looks different than the way I do life, I’m generally ok with it.

One night we were hanging around and That Guy was yammering on about something political and how his side was right and the others were all idiots. There was nervous laughter, a few comments that maybe were meant to slow him down or maybe were meant to prod him on. I exchanged glances with my husband across the room and looked down, mentally rolling my eyes. That’s when it happened. That’s when a line was crossed. When reality became a little surreal. He said, “Liberals should all just go kill themselves right now.” In that moment, the world stopped for a minute for me. A lot of things tumbled through my mind. I couldn’t believe those words had been spoken in general, but especially since minutes before one or two people had shared that someone they know had been affected by a death in the family that may have been suicide. Especially since one member of the group had shared in a previous gathering that in the past he had harbored suicidal thoughts. Especially since I was sitting in a room full of Christ followers at a Bible study. I thought about children (there were none present at that moment that were old enough to know what was going on, thank God) and the expectations we have of them. We give lectures; teach entire classes even, on how to be an “upstander”. We teach them that degrading comments, lewd jokes, bullying in any form should not be tolerated and that they should step in if they see it happening. We expect that of small children, but when I looked around the room in that moment, in that setting, with those parameters… All I saw was nervous laughter and downcast eyes, maybe even some amusement. In that second, I thought about a friend who lost a son less than six months prior; another friend who lost a cousin; the people who moments before had shared that suicide had affected their lives. I couldn’t believe that this was reality. I was incredulous. I was pissed. I was also thankful that I was not harboring suicidal thoughts, since I was most certainly one of the most liberal people there, and it might have been enough to push me over the edge if I had been. I didn’t want to play into stereotypes of what some of the people in that room surely thought about those of us who have liberal tendencies getting “offended” over every little thing. But I also could not, would not let it go. I wish I could say that I stood up and really let him have it. That I had said all of these things that have been festering in my mind, prompting the writing of this piece. That I had grabbed my family and walked out. That I had never gone back. But that’s not what happened. I said, “Well I’m pretty liberal so I’ll be sure NOT to take your advice!” with a smile, in a somewhat lighthearted tone. I think on some level I didn’t want to make everyone uncomfortable by making a scene. And I’m sure that basic sense of wanting to belong came into it along the line somewhere. I thought maybe wording it that way and revealing that not everyone in the room was on board might make him think twice about what he was saying. You know what the response was? He said, “Oh, I knew I’d probably offend someone.” Offended wasn’t the word to describe what I was feeling. Appalled. Disgusted. Angry. Sad. Those words were more accurate.

We went back a couple more times, but a taste like that is not easily washed out of the mouth. Our family had been very busy and hadn’t had as much time together as we had wanted and needed, so we decided that our priority was to spend time together instead. I told the leaders that it “wasn’t working with our family’s schedule”. I don’t like confrontation. I didn’t want That Guy to get spoken to and us to wind up being the new people that got “offended”. I didn’t want to upset the apple cart. But the more I have tried to push this down and move on, the more it has festered in my mind. The more a voice inside me is shouting THIS IS NOT OK.

As I said, there are lines that should not be crossed. You might view this as a passive aggressive way to address the issue, but I like to think of it as a story that will make you think. No matter what the issue is: sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, politics, race, we are all people and we all have value. Suicide is not a joke and no one, no matter the life they lead, should ever be told that ending that life is an acceptable solution.

Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy. –Proverbs 14:10 (NIV)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 

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