I’ve been away for a while. Away from this site because my other priorities seemed more important, more pressing. Away from writing in general, because it’s hard and time-consuming and I didn’t feel like my writing was really accomplishing anything, in spite of what my friends told me. So I bent my energy toward my job and the other commitments in my life, and in my down time I played computer games instead of building this site and working on my books.
And by October or so, I began to realize I didn’t like myself nearly as much as I had earlier in the year. My life, my outlook, my attitude all reflected the general lack of courage in the way I was living–or avoiding life.
I’m back now. Ready to work. Maybe we can inspire each other.
The first Sunday of the new year, my church has a special service we call the Burning Service. After the sermon, each congregant takes a small slip of paper, writes on it what he or she wants to leave behind going into the new year, and drops it into the flame of a candle. It’s a way to symbolically start the year fresh, to commit to getting rid of those things in our lives we want to leave behind. It’s one of my family’s favorite services of the year.
So this past Sunday, we made sure we were there for the burning service. I wrote a few words on my slip of paper and joined the line toward the front of the sanctuary, where the flame would consume the aspects of me I wanted to leave behind. As I lit my paper and dropped it into the bowl of sand we used to make sure the flames didn’t spread, I happened to glance down and see an unfolded slip that had landed words-up in the sand. Its end had burned, but the words printed were still legible, and they caught my eye:
Now, I have no idea who dropped that slip. I have no idea how old they are, whether they are man or boy, woman or girl. I have no idea whether the writing meant what it seemed to mean to me. I have no idea if dropping that slip was a family drama for someone, done in such a way their loved ones would have to ask if they are planning to hurt themselves, a ploy for attention rather than a cry for help.
But it caught my attention. It made me want to help, and not knowing how to contact the person who dropped it, I decided to put the word out here. Perhaps some ripple of this will get back to them before they do something final.
Plenty of folks start the new year in despair, ashamed of something they did or didn’t do in the year just ended and seeing no way the year to come can be better. Plenty of folks feel trapped by their circumstances and see no way forward. Plenty of folks just can’t see past their own sadness, or fear, or despair. And they can’t ask for help because sites like this tell them to just get up and move forward, or their friends or families tell them to work though the pain, or our culture tells them sadness isn’t something other people need to see.
I should be able to deal with it, they tell themselves. We’re somehow less if we admit to needing help. Heck, some of us feel like we’re less if we need help, whether or not we admit it.
So they keep it to themselves, and it doesn’t get better. Instead, it festers. It gets worse. And sooner or later, the only way out of the pain seems to be to do something final.
The problem is–and here’s something it’s taken me forty-something years to figure out–trying to carry a burden by yourself is not courage. It’s stubbornness. It’s a recipe for failure, for injury, for spending your life feeling inadequate. We all need help. Even our heroes, the wealthy and successful people society says we should look up to, had help getting where they are. Nobody makes it through life alone.
So ask for help. Tell the people who love you what you need. And help them when they tell you what they need. And forgive them, and yourself, when the asking or the help isn’t what you hoped it would be.
With luck, you won’t end up wanting to burn your onward when next year comes around.