I wish I could talk to the ghost of my friend Andrew.
Andrew is the reason the When Life was Still trilogy exists. The story wouldn’t have developed without my exposure to his inquisitive nature and his habit of supporting and encouraging others. His friendliness toward me is a gift that keeps on giving. Publication of my trilogy has resulted in connecting with strangers who have become dear friends. When Andrew was introduced to me by my sister, he immediately offered his friendship. He fit in well with our family. It’s easy to believe that Andrew fit in well with many families because of his thoughtfulness and curiosity about other people’s stories. He had the inquiring character of a detective and loved finding genealogical information to hang on other people’s family trees. It is Andrew’s effort to research my husband’s family history that breathed life into the fictional character of my protagonist Ellen Egan. He discovered so many interesting facts about my husband’s third-great-grandmother that the seeds for an entire fictional trilogy had been planted. Andrew helped nurture the development of my trilogy as he always encouraged me when I shared my writing progress with him. Andrew was the rare person in my life who made a point of sending me a personal message with a wish for happiness on my birthday. He was the kind of person who was sensitive to what gave joy to others and made the extra effort to deliver it.
Andrew was very expressive with his thoughts, but he didn’t wish me a Happy Birthday this year. I chalked it up to the same distortion of time and distractions that have messed with my own calendar during the pandemic. The lack of greeting caused me to realize that I hadn’t heard from him in a while. So after I published my collection of poems this summer, I planned to connect with him and give him a copy to read whenever his pandemic schedule allowed him the opportunity to take the time to read poetry. I’m kicking myself for not doing it when I had that intention because, a week later, Andrew committed suicide.
The opportunity is gone, but if I could talk to Andrew today, I’m sure we would discuss genealogy, politics, human nature, and whatever curious information he is currently dwelling on. I would share parts of rough drafts of my sequel with him because he would reliably encourage me and help guide my storyline in the right direction with his well-read, well-informed response.
If I could talk to Andrew, I would ask him if he understood why he committed suicide. I am guessing that he would respond that silence factored into his decision to end his life. I assume that the abundance of questions he had lately about politics, human behavior, and why people allow history to repeat itself had been met with silence because many people simply don’t care as much as he did. I imagine that not everyone who thought good things about Andrew bothered to demonstrate it in the way he shared positive thoughts and well-wishes with others. It’s been my experience that the people who are so wonderful at demonstratively thinking of others are in desperate need of positive feedback. Andrew was extremely sensitive. I think his sensitivity contributed to making him among the most brilliantly creative people I have known. Sensitive people are often resistant to assuming during periods of silence that people are thinking positive things about them. Because it’s so easy for people wired with creative brains to feel like a freak among people who process life differently (a.k.a. “acceptably”), sensitive creative people often need repeated evidence of acceptance by others via words and actions. I frequently told Andrew how much I appreciated his presence in my life and the inspiration that he was for my writing, but I feel that I failed to give Andrew as much positive feedback as I could have.
I know I’m not responsible for Andrew’s suicide, but if I had contacted him the moment I had the intention the week before he died, maybe it would have kept him alive long enough to move beyond the rut of his suicidal thoughts. Perhaps my expressed interest in how he was doing and the reminder of my gratitude for his friendship could have provided a small stepping stone to higher emotional ground. I’ll never know—and that’s the classic burden that successful suicide victims leave with the people who care about them.
I thought about Andrew yesterday on All Saints’ Eve (Halloween). In the Catholic Church, it is a traditional celebration of saints known and unknown. Today, on All Saints’ Day, I continue to dwell on the meaning of Andrew’s life, which began for him in the Catholic Church. I was also raised in the Catholic Church, but I’m not a fan of organized religion because of the historical opportunity for abuse that it has provided. Even though I’m not a fan of it, I dwell on religion and it finds its way into my writing because of the impact it has on human behavior as a result of the barriers it often creates to well-being. My protagonists in When Life Was Still are also resistant to religious behavior and choose, instead, to put their energy into directly doing what they can to make the world a better, more connected place for others. Ironically, in the books that Andrew helped inspire, my protagonists also deal with suicide.
Andrew put his energy into making the world a better and more connected place. He would be the first to say he wasn’t a saint. But I do think he would appreciate being remembered today on All Saints’ Day. I think it would make him laugh, too. He had a great sense of humor about his shortcomings. I don’t expect saints—or anyone—to be perfect. But I do expect everyone to possess the human decency to consider the well-being of others, like a saint would. And I do expect people to make an effort to lift one another up at every opportunity. I actually expect people to create opportunities to lift up others. That’s what Andrew did. He made it his mission in life. Unfortunately, he couldn’t figure out how to lift himself up when he needed it most.
I think everyone should be acknowledged for the thoughtful, life-enhancing things they do while they’re alive. Birthdays are a good opportunity to do that. But I think we should also make the point of expressing gratitude for the people in our lives way more than once a year. I truly believe that relatively small acts of kindness can eventually re-shape the world. If it weren’t for Andrew’s thoughtful, typically year-round expressed appreciation and encouragement for me, you and I wouldn’t be connecting in this space. Without Andrew’s conscious kindness, publication of my writing wouldn’t have happened in the way it did.
On this All Saints’ Day, I encourage you to consider being like Andrew. Like him, I hope you’ll consider making a conscious effort every day to actually share your positive thoughts about the people in your life instead of keeping them in that silent place paved with good intentions. It might not be in your nature to vocalize your thoughts in the way Andrew did, but those positive words that you make concrete just might contribute to the foundation of acceptance that a sensitive person in your life desperately needs. It might provide the bit of evidence they need that they are valuable to this world and should stay on this earth as long as possible. Your kind expressions might even inspire someone to write a trilogy that allows strangers a way to connect in this potentially lonely and unwelcoming world.
Since I have your attention, I want to take the opportunity to tell you that I appreciate you. I think you’re wonderful for taking an interest in my words and choosing to give up some of your time to experience my thoughts. The world is a better place because of considerate people like you. Happy All Saints’ Day!
© 2021 by Julie A. Ryan. All rights reserved.
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