Just four months before the release of my book, X-Plan Parenting, my wife and I awoke to a living nightmare on a beautiful February morning.
Our teenage son was gone.
Not left early for school (as he sometimes did). Not asleep on the couch instead of his bed (another norm).
Left behind was a note, telling us not to worry, that he would be okay, but he just couldn’t take this life anymore.
Anxiety and depression haunt most families. We try to exorcise the demons with therapy, prayer, prescription drugs, physical activity … you name it. However, the numbers don’t lie. Things are getting worse, and our kids are suffering the fallout.
Anxiety is now the most common form of mental illness in the US, affecting 10% of young teens. That number swells to 30% by the age of eighteen, until we find upwards of 40% of adults suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety and depression often hang out together, and our technologically advanced, postmodern lifestyles (including our warped online realities and social media melodrama) only seem to be dragging our kids deeper into this mental/emotional hurricane.
Are you exhausted from worrying about someone? Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?
Okay, friends. Huddle up.
My friends, I owe you an apology.
I am deeply sorry for my reaction to this most recent shooting. Even more, I need to offer something else: not an excuse (I, too, am sick of excuses) but an explanation … if you’re willing to listen.
I am broken.
After looking for about ten minutes, Laura whispers my name.
“Bert, over here.”
She is standing next to a bronze parapet that surrounds one of the 9/11 Memorial pools. Her fingers are tracing the inscription of his name: Paul W. Ambrose
We hadn’t known him personally, but Paul was a hometown kid, and in Huntington, WV, our social ties are rather enmeshed. We’re all linked by only one or two degrees of separation, and we celebrate people like Paul (there aren’t many like him) because they make us proud. From Marshall University to Dartmouth to Harvard, Paul had pole vaulted over the hillbilly stereotype. Engaging, intelligent, and relentless, Paul planted himself among elite company as a congressional advisor, a champion for public health, and senior advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General. Many expected him to become the nation’s youngest surgeon general.
David is dead.
If I could write that with more poetic flair, I would, but it would be no less piercing to his mother.
His obituary celebrates a theatrical whirling dervish who “loved all he met, cheered on the underdog,” and brightened the world with “an incredible smile, an infectious laugh,” and “the best bear hugs of anyone.”
On the scorecard, however, David is just another tally mark in the Overdose column. We say that addiction killed him, but that’s not true. The drugs, like most addictions, were just self-medication for deeper wounds. They always are. I heard someone say that we live in a world at war, and nobody gets out of here unscathed.
Anyway, David is dead. As Dickens proclaims, that must be acknowledged should anything wonderful come of this tale.
A buddy and I once had a regrettably awesome idea: “Let’s have the most unforgettable Fourth of July fireworks display EVER!”
We pooled our resources and headed across the river to smuggle boxes of explosives back into West Virginia. Rockets. Missiles. Screamers. Repeaters. Roman Candles. Dozens of exploding mortars (those are the big, professional ones, kids).
As family and friends filled our yard, we anxiously awaited the cover of darkness so we could light up the night sky. It was going to be … glorious!
Unfortunately, communication along the front line suffered a setback, resulting in a “slight weapons malfunction.” To cut to the chase, a random spark ignited some misplaced mortars and … well, to be honest, all hell broke loose.
That didn’t go as planned (photo from Caddyshack)
Within 60 seconds, nearly $500 worth of fireworks came roaring to life and attacked in all directions. The rockets’ red glare. The bombs burst in the air … and on my house … and next to screaming people running for cover. At one point I saw my wife’s cousin, just home from Iraq and still in uniform, running through the yard, tossing children over his shoulder and extracting them from the battlefield. People were diving in the pool as my wife screamed, “Get under the water! Stay down!”
You know that final scene from Caddyshack when Carl blows up the entire golf course? That was child’s play compared to our epic disaster.
Open your contact lists on your phone and computer. Count the entries. Next add your social media friends and followers. Now, estimate how many people you brush up against on any given day (in both the physical and media realms).
Let’s pretend you actually arrived at a final sum (we’ll call it “Z”).
Head out to your local hardware store. Ask the kid behind the counter to make “Z” copies of your house key. Finally, send one to every person included in “Z”. (Make sure you have extra copies to hand out to random folks throughout the week.)
We wouldn’t give many of our family members that much open access to our homes, not to mention the countless others we encounter. But this is exactly what we do—day in and day out—with our hearts.
Little wonder we feel plundered at the end of most days. Life has a way of breaking-and-entering on its own. We don’t help ourselves by handing out keys like Pez dispensers.
We know that art imitates life. Life also imitates art. And somewhere in between, we explore nature’s blueprint as we each try to figure out who—and what—we really are.
Sitting here in my writing sanctuary, I’ve become distracted by movement in the woods just beyond my window. A woodpecker is making his way up a long, slender birch tree, stopping ever so often for some investigative pecks. He visits our woods regularly. I frequently hear his rhythmic knocking, and when I do, I always stop to look for the handsome fellow. He’s a delight to behold. Slender, coal-black body. Fiery red head. Power and grace that would shame most ballerinas. I’m mesmerized by his existence. And I wonder how a bird that can be so beautiful and naturally gifted at locating insects in a tree still can’t retrieve tennis balls like Cleveland and Bruce, our golden retrievers.
Our woodpecker is the worst retriever I’ve ever seen. In fact (pardon the phrase, but there’s no better way to say it), he flat-out sucks. Continue reading
I want to share a painting that hangs on the wall where I do most of my work. When I look up from my desk, this is what I see:
Study the picture for a few minutes. (Okay, give it ten seconds. I know—you’re busy. We all are.)
Now tell me, what happened here? What’s the story?
Whatever yarn you spin will reveal nothing about the painting, but it will suggest a lot about your life, your place in the world, and the impact you’ll have on others.
Friends, is yours a story of destruction and despair, or one of beauty and adventure?
More importantly, how thankful are you for the story you’re living? Continue reading