I Wonder If It Hurts to Live

I wonder if it hurts to live,

And if they have to try,

And whether, could they choose between,

They would not rather die.

~ Emily Dickinson

 

The fall my daughter Laura started college, a sophomore student climbed to the seventh floor of one of the classroom buildings and leapt from a balcony to his death. Laura went to the impromptu student-led candlelight vigil held in the university’s Brickyard that night. Prayers were said, Psalms read. Students, teachers, and staff alike wondered, Why? Nobody saw it coming, not even his suite mates.

~~~

Every time I go to work at the university food court, I walk through the Brickyard where the vigil was held. From the front windows of the dining area, I can look across the yard and see the building from which the young student fell. I didn’t know him but, after three years, I still feel the loss.

The reasons for suicide are many and complicated. Often a suicide is prompted by mental illness or substance abuse, twin demons that first kidnap the mind and then kill the body. Other people are overwhelmed by perceived failures, lost love, financial ruin. Each individual has his own tangled web of motives for choosing death. And yet if you boil the reasons down to their lowest common denominator, you always find despair.

~~~

It hurts to live. We live in a world of hurt, a place where pain often seems to outweigh pleasure and where all the shades of sadness—everything from small disappointments to unthinkable tragedies—paint the backdrop to our existence. I’ve often thought that even the easiest of lives is hard.

~~~

When the students line up at my cash register, we exchange smiles and a few words of greeting. They appear happy, most of them. But sometimes I wonder what’s really going on in their heads, behind those youthful eyes.

Even as they prepare for the future, I have no doubt the usual existential questions tug at their minds: Why am I here? What’s it all about? I shudder to think of the answers offered to them by the world. Do their professors insist that we are all cosmic accidents, free-floating agents of biology and fate with nothing to tether us to a meaningful purpose? Do their parents goad them to succeed at all costs, because short of success, a person is nothing? Do the media tell them they must be famous, beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and—God forbid—a rock star, when they know instinctively—most of them, anyway—they were born to be common, and that what should be celebrated as a grand thing—living a common life—is met instead with derision and contempt? Do they sense somehow that there is a God, but are these nascent longings crushed by those who mock any mention of the Divine, who view religious faith as, at best, a superstition, at worst, the source of all evil? Do all the world’s messages create such turmoil in the human psyche that finally the only seemingly sensible thing to do is to climb seven flights of stairs with no intention of walking back down?

~~~

Even if you don’t jump, you can be dead while you’re still breathing. Because if you don’t know what you’re living for, you aren’t living.

~~~

There’s the story about the man who found an eagle’s egg and put it into the nest of a prairie chicken. When it hatched, naturally the eagle thought it was a chicken. It didn’t notice that it was different, and no one told him. Once he saw an eagle flying high on a current of wind, and something inside of him identified; he longed to be like that. But one of his chicken-brothers told him to forget it; he was a chicken and that was all he’d ever be. For years he scratched in the dirt for seed and insects like the other chickens. When he flew, he never got more than a few feet off the ground, because that’s how all the other chickens flew. The eagle didn’t know he had wings that were built to take him to great heights. He died without knowing that he could soar.

~~~

I wonder whether it might have made a difference to that young man if he had known he was created in the image of God and born to be in a love relationship with him. That his wings weren’t those of a prairie chicken, so stunted that he couldn’t rise above failures, fears, broken relationships—whatever it was that weighed him down as his feet carried him up the stairwell. I wonder whether it might have changed everything if he had known he was here because God wanted him here, that God loved him desperately and had plans for him far beyond the years that he would wander through this crazy world. That there was a whole eternity of love waiting for him beyond this life, the very love that makes this journey bearable, and at times almost unbearably beautiful.

~~~

Each one of us is here because God wants us here. We sprang from the loving heart of a Father who knew us individually before he laid the foundations of the world. God love us. He wants us to spend our lives loving him.

~~~

And, just to make this perfectly clear, I’m talking to you. The one who is reading this. God loves you. God loves you. He loves you. There are no exceptions. Spread your eagle-wings and live your life as the love story it was created to be. Even in a world of hurt, you were made to soar.

~~~

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.   1 John 4:9, NRSV

4 thoughts on “I Wonder If It Hurts to Live

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