I saved a life the other day.
No joke, no exaggeration, no metaphor. I save my teacher's life.
My teacher has been having a very rough time lately. There have been obvious family problems, as well as the fact that they don't have a lot of money. Not helping is the current political climate of seeing anyone who isn't white as some sort of threat to the status quo. Those of you who know me as a live and let live fellow will be surprised to find out I've learned to fight. I had to. And it came in handy when a couple of stupid blowhards decided to scream at her and call her a "sand n****r" completely out of the blue (I'm a grappler, and that gives you a couple of advantages over sucker punches if you're smart about it). Trying to keep her spirits up seemed to be becoming harder.
And then, Friday night. There's no particular place to go, so we wind up riding around.
And she broke.
She said, "I'm tired of this. I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of being alive."
My heart lurched to a stop. I know what that means. I have to struggle with despair and suicidal thoughts once in a while. It's happened so often, I could give guided tours. I know the signs. For example, when I stop watching my favorite shows the first chance I get. Sometimes, I'll push them off, sometimes for a week or two. But if, after a week, I simply have no interest in watching them, that means The Darkness is coming, and I better get my coping mechanisms ready, because it's going to be bad.
Part of the reason my teacher and I are more than teacher and student, why we're best friends, is because we understand each other. We have a lot of similiarities. Most of her other students have moved on, they figure they got what they needed from her. I have been with her, still learning, even though the lessons aren't anywhere near as frequent as they used to be, and the relationship has morphed into more than friends. We're family. It's weird because there's no real way to describe it. We aren't lovers, what's between us isn't like that. Friendship doesn't cover it. It's a rare occurance that we are both blessed to have found in each other. Besides, we knew each other back on The Other Side, and somehow reconnected here. It's always fun when you're away from home and you run into someone you know.
The fact that we are so much alike that she is saying exactly what I say gives me hope. Maybe my coping mechanisms will work on her. I say a quick prayer that I can be the hand reaching out of the darkness, and I start.
I can't say exactly everything. We're alike, but we aren't copies. I have to deal with things I don't deal with, like casual racism and misogyny. Her dead husband. Her family legacy. She says she is a failure, that everyone would have learned what they did without her anyway. She is adamant, insisting on turning over her ID cards and such to me, giving her religious items to those that can use them so they aren't lost, that her mind is made up. I pull over because I'm crying and can barely see the road. She says she doesn't want to be buried next to her mother and her brother because she doesn't feel worthy of them. She's figuring out where she can go to "commit my final sin."
I eventually get her to agree to wait overnight, so that she can make her final arrangements. You still need time to figure out what's going to whom, right?
Tak, then we'll talk in the morning and go from there.
"My mind is made up. I have failed God."
Yes, it's made up. And I won't try to change it.
Yeah, I lied.
I eventually play on her guilt, saying that I'm hungry and, if she's truly going away, then please grant her humble student one last meal with her. She agrees. Before she even realizes it, I've taken her to her favorite place with sweet potato fries, her favorite. Because she's reacting like me, I'm wagering that she hasn't eaten all day, and hitting her with the scents of her favorites will get to her. Comfort food always works in a lurch.
She looks through the window with dread. I can see her studying the building, trying to commit everything her senses are feeding her to memory, to hold onto towards the end. This is a huge gamble I'm taking, but a lot of times, general feelings of frustration come from low blood sugar. I'm hoping that, if I feed her, her body will start to normalize and I'll get through to her easier.
I cheat, and order her two sandwiches and the largest size fries. "That's too much food."
We'll throw away what you don't eat.
"You don't like wasting food."
I just want to make sure it lasts through the conversation.
I've ordered my usual meal, which is huge, but I also pick up a take out bag. I'm not sure how much I'm going to eat myself.
We sit, and as she eats, she starts to compose herself. She finishes the first sandwich and half of the fries before she even knows it. Usually, she's taking part of the sandwich home. She's been starving.
I take advantage of her surprise. Her mind is open. Something this simple is outside the usual for her. It's bigger than her. She doesn't control it. I make my move.
I began with a careful deconstruction of her situation. I find myself repeating Robin Williams' line in Good Will Hunting -- it's not your fault.
"I had a chance to do this six months ago. But I didn't do anything. I figured there'd be more time."
So start doing it now.
"Timing is everything. There is a proper time to do things, and I missed it." (She's referring to the supermoon we just had on Tuesday, which also fell on September 29th, the Feast Of St. Michael, the Feast Of The Angels, and the actual date of Jesus' birth. It was a pretty significant time, and because of these circumstances, she couldn't participate in the ceremony, the first time in her life she ever missed it.)
Everyone misses once in a while.
"I wasn't supposed to."
You're still human. Just like me. And what happens when I miss my chances?
"...you find a way to make another one."
Life doesn't give a lot of chances. But it does give fighting chances. I'm proof of that. You've seen how much I've changed and evolved over the years, and I was a total mess when we met. If I can do it, you can do it.
"...but Peter, I don't even have a church anymore."
Ah, but you have me. Thy name is Peter, and on this rock....
She just looks at me. It's like Bugs Bunny logic -- it sounds like total bullshit, but also makes a weird sort of sense.
"I'm not supposed to make mistakes."
You haven't in all these years, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Why do you think Jesus came here?
I answer before she can, keeping the momentum on my side. Jesus is about redemption. About second chances. That we make mistakes and we can make them right. Atone for them. Fix them. If we didn't make mistakes, there'd be no reason for His grace. His mercy. His sacrifice.
"...but where would I start?"
I don't know. But you can find a way.
And at this point, I take her hand in mine. And you won't be doing it alone.
She's starting to cry, but for a different reason now. It takes a little longer to finish, but I see she's eaten everything I bought for her, has helped herself to some of my fries, and even asked if she could have one of my sandwiches. Of course, I said yes.
There's still the occasional wobble. "I can't do this."
It's only over if you want it to be.
"What if I want it to be?"
Remember what it was like for us back home? Technically, I still outrank you. I can always order you to keep going.
She scowled and went back to eating.
Eventually, I reach her last line of defense. "I'm just tired of being a burden on others."
You're not a burden. You're my best friend. And anyone who thinks you're a burden doesn't deserve you.
"I carry others. I'm not used to being carried."
Everyone needs help once in a while. That's what friends are for. I've helped you over the years, and I've never complained once, right?
"You're just being nice."
You really think I can hide my irritation that well?
That gets her. There's a reason some of the others from our old church called me "Peter The Loud."
I don't leave her alone at that point. I bring her to crash at my place for the night. But I can tell it worked. She's at the table with a cup of coffee, and I can tell she's praying. "I'm begging for forgiveness. I let God down."
You didn't let God down. Everyone freaks out once in a while. Jesus did Himself. Remember, He asked God to take this cup from Him?
She looks at me, and I pull her into a hug. The reason for forgiveness is for second chances. As many as we need to get it right. He's forgiven me for all my mistakes, and I've made more and bigger than you. If I can be forgiven, so can you.
"I had the choice. And I chose to despair. How can He forgive me?"
I think for a moment, then figure this is the time to play the ace I've been saving all night. He's already forgiven you. I lean in close to her face and ask, Why do you think you had these thoughts when you did?
She just looks at me. I continue. You didn't despair when we were talking on the phone and you could hang up on me. You didn't despair when I wasn't around. You despaired when you were in the presence of someone who knows you, what you're going through, and can lead you out of The Darkness. He forgave you and gave you your second chance before you even knew it. There are no coincidences, only the illusion of coincidence.
That jerked the stopper. She collapsed against me, crying and letting all the poison finally run out.
Saturday morning, I wake up, and see she's already up. She has some of my scratch paper out. I can see she is crafting plans of action to get herself in position to continue and let go of what is done. I make us breakfast (my legendary French toast) and drop her off with her son.
I check in with her later that night. Her son wants to meet me. Actually, he's treating us all to dinner. And he tells me privately, he wants me there to repay me. He knew what was coming, and he thinks it's nothing less than a miracle that she's still alive. And he thanks me for it.
My response is simple -- she's my best friend. How could I not help her?
I have woken up this morning. She's still up and running, and I can tell she has recovered that fighting spirit and determination that we both share. I'm still watching just in case, but it looks like I did it.
For one night, the student became the teacher.
And it was scary.