January First has been out now for over two weeks. Thanks to all of you, it just recorded its second week on the New York Times Combined (electronic and hardcover) Bestseller’s List, something I never expected.
So I am getting a lot of people telling me “Congratulations.”
I know people mean well. They say it out of common courtesy. I get that. But it’s difficult for me to respond. I have to respond. These are people who bought and read the book. Their purchase has put me one step closer to securing Jani and Bodhi’s future after I am dead and gone.
Online it is easier. I can just type “Thank you” and move on. That’s the nice thing about the online world. You can kill the conversation whenever you want. Recently, I wished one of my Facebook friends “Happy birthday.” She responded to my single line on her wall by expressing wonder that now that I was a “celebrity” I still took the time to wish people a happy birthday.
I know she meant well. She’s a nice person. But I could not think of a nice way to respond to that, so I didn’t.
I get that for most Americans, and perhaps the rest of the world, TV appearances and getting a book published equal “celebrity.” Except that I hate the term. It implies that I am a different person than I was before. But I was a different person long before anyone in the public knew my name or Jani’s name. It was the experiences within the book that made me a different person, not the book itself. The fact that I can go into a Barnes & Noble and open a book to see myself on the back flap doesn’t change me.
It doesn’t quite work.
Congratulations for what?
What exactly is it that I did?
“Thank you for being so honest.”
What else would I do? Hide that my daughter has schizophrenia? Kinda hard to do when every aspect of my life is totally defined by Jani (and Bodhi). I have no life beyond them. There is nothing left of whoever I was before Jani became ill.
“It’s so great you stood by Jani.”
She’s my daughter. I brought her into this world. What was I supposed to do?
“You could have sent her away.”
What would be the point in doing that? Like I told you, “my” life was already gone. Okay, so let’s say I send Jani away. Then what? Go on with my life? What life?
“You could have run away.”
I tried that a couple of times. The first time I tried to run away had to be cut from the book for length reasons but it is in the blog “Stay Together for the Kids.” The second was the ultimate escape attempt, which is recorded in the book. I didn’t run away because I am more noble or better than any of you. I didn’t run away because the Universe or God or whatever you want to call it wouldn’t let me. The first time It wouldn’t let me by scaring off the other woman (see “Stay Together for the Kids”). The second time… Well, the second time It directly intervened. And it did. It had to. What are the odds that Jani would walk into the kitchen and speak to me as I about to swallow a second mouthful of anti-depressants? I didn’t save her life. It was the other way around. How many more pills would it have taken to kill me on that June day in 2009? Was that final, lethal pill waiting in the next swallow? Would I have kept going? Would I have vomited all over the kitchen floor? Gone into a seizure? Foamed at the mouth?
Did you know most suicide victims never leave a note? It’s true. Only a small minority ever do. Interestingly enough, those few suicide notes are rarely an explanation. You want to know what the most common opening line in a suicide note is?
These people are about to kill themselves and they are writing an apology.
Why? If they know they are going to hurt those they leave behind, why do they do it?
Because it’s a mental illness. It’s called severe depression. You know what you are doing is wrong but you can’t help it.
I believe in God. When I drove away that day to die, God spoke to me.
No, no apparition appeared to me in the middle the road. No booming voice from a burning bush spoke to me.
It was a very quiet voice, inside my head, in the same voice all my internal thoughts are in.
“You can’t do this.”
It wasn’t a command. It wasn’t said with desperation. It stated as a quiet fact, as if I was simply prolonging the inevitable. It knew I wasn’t really going to kill myself, that I could not just abandon Jani, Bodhi, and Susan to whatever life might throw at them. So why I was pretending like this? This was just a charade, me having a tantrum and raging at the Universe because I couldn’t “save” Jani.
And it was right. I was just playing at trying to run away. Because there was no running away. This is Jani’s life. This is Bodhi’s life. This is Susan’s life. This is my life.
I had a job to do, even if I sucked at it.
Never assume that your “calling” will be something that you’re good at. God, Nature, Universe, Allah, whatever you call It, doesn’t call you to work because you are good at the job. It calls you because It knows you will persevere. It calls you because It knows that in those moments where you feel like you are going to give up… you don’t. It calls you because It knows that if you go over the edge, you’re gonna catch that branch or jagged rock just underneath. Yeah, you might cut yourself to pieces but you will hang on rather than let go. You will live with the pain of what you have done rather than let go and fall to your death. You will break every bone in your damn body. It will let you lay there for awhile, feeling sorry for yourself. But in the end It knows what you know. You aren’t just gonna lay there forever. You are going to roll over and crawl your way back.
Because you got a job to do.
What is that job?
It’s very simple.
That’s all It needs you to do. Stay alive.
You have to stay alive because one day you will be called upon to help someone else stay alive and you will be the ONLY person who can do that. And they in turn will be called upon to help someone else stay alive so that they in turn can help someone else stay alive.
That is how you change the world. You stay alive.
I don’t deserve congratulations for writing a book or being on TV. The only thing I did was stay alive. And by staying alive, I help to keep Jani alive.
And she in turn helps so many of you to stay alive. I know this because you’ve told me.
And in turn you will help others to stay alive.
That is it. That is the noblest thing you can do, the highest calling of a human being. Survive. Even if today, yesterday, last week, last month, last year, or your entire life has been one big pile of shit, you have to stay alive. You’re life has value. You keep others alive.
That is also why suicides tend to happen in sets. It’s a chain reaction. You fall and the whole chain crumbles without you.
If there is one thing I have learned through all of this, it is that EVERY SINGLE life has value.
So please stop congratulating me. You can congratulate Jani because she has earned it. She has fought back from a 50/50 prognosis to odds I’d take to Vegas if I could go to Vegas.
But I what I really want you to do is congratulate yourself for being alive tonight. And then I want to find another human being and congratulate them on being alive. And tell them to do the same.
We’re all part of this chain.
And I am hoping that the next time I hear “congratulations” it will be from somebody who’s never heard of me.[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MRdtXWcgIw 100×100]