I was either 35 or 32. I should know exactly, but I don’t. I know I was the youngest in our Leadership class (Class 21). It was opening retreat on the obstacle course. There was a wooden pole – about 25-400 feet high; the exact height has left me, but it was about that tall. The objective was to climb the pole, get on top, jump off and ring the bell before safely returning to the ground.
I looked it up and down and wasn’t sure I could do it. “I’m going to let the astronaut go first and see how it’s done.” Up he went. Steady and confident. Up. Jump. Ding. I followed suit.
Over the next 10 months, the astronaut and I spent time together in class. Our circles were different. I sat in the back of the bus. He was up front, poised, honorable. We were bus buddies once and I relished in having his attention. As our program came to a close, we had the performers at a piano bar play Elton John’s Rocket Man for him. He was our astronaut.
Graduation sent the astronaut and me on different paths. We never reconnected.
Fast forward seven years or ten. I don't know. I should.
When the phone rang, I was sure it was a misdial. The treasured friend on the other line asked, “Have you heard?” I hadn’t. I Googled. The mugshot staring back at me was unrecognizable. The article called him by his formal name, not the name we knew him by. But the bio was the man we knew. The tragedy that killed two young girls was the last thing any of us expected.
I hung up the phone and cried. I went to tennis and cried. I called my mom and cried. I came home and more tragic news was delivered – a suicide of my brother’s acquaintance. We hugged and cried. I asked Alexa to play Rocket Man and cried. I stare at this computer screen and cry.
I don’t know what the astronaut did with his life these last few years. I don’t know why my brother’s friend-of-a-friend ended his path. I’m not trying to put up false pretenses that I had a role valuable enough in either of these lives that could change history.
What I’m hoping to do is reach someone who is venturing to a place where terrible things happen.
The ask for help is the most humiliating thing you can do. Trust me. I’ve done it. I was laying on the kitchen floor one Thanksgiving – a shell of myself – crying, wrought with anxiety and prepared with a plan. But I called for help. The shame of that call, of getting to that place, humiliates me – even all these years later. But I made it. And as a result, I made it. I am making it. Every day I thank God I made that call. The amazing journey my life has taken was worth that call.
If anything good can come from these situations, I hope that people ask, answer, step in, step up, and overstep. Please love yourself. Love yourself. You are enough. Do not live your life with demons at the wheel. You deserve better.
Love each other.
Make the call.