Some forty years ago, I ran into my uncle at a retirement home. I was a nervous, 21 year old delivering chicken to the place where Uncle Ed was living. He said, “Roy, do you have time for a cup of coffee”? I hesitated, being a bit shy and always trying to outrun the present moment, and replied, “I don’t really have time.”
He died soon after, and I never saw him again. I still feel regrets. I didn’t have “time” (whatever that is) for a cup of coffee.
Zip ahead to just a month or so ago. I was riding my bike to a yoga class I teach here in Everett, and I came across strange scene. A man was standing on the sidewalk, looking at a big dog, a golden retriever, laying in the driveway, not moving. I slowed and shouted, nervously, with an inappropriate smile, “I hope he’s just sleeping”? And he, also a bit anxiously replied, “I hope so.”
I continued on my way to class, with a terrible feeling in my gut. A block and a half later, I turned around and headed back, not sure why, but I had to know. By the time I got there, a woman had also showed up, standing with the man, not sure what to do about this unmoving dog. I rode up, and the dog quickly jumped up, wagged its tail, and came over to me for a pat on the head. We all took a deep breath of relief and joy.
But I apparently did not learn my lesson. A friend of ours, a wonderful woman who regularly attended our yoga retreats, was battling depression. She seemed to take a turn for the worse, and called and texted me a few times, inviting my partner and I to dinner, offering me things from her home she had decided she was going to get rid of. It made me a bit uncomfortable, and although we chatted a couple times, I largely ignored her invitation.
A couple weeks later I got a call from her husband that she had committed suicide. Over the next day or two, the feelings sunk in, the grief, and the guilt. Why didn’t I get the clues? Why didn’t I do something, anything? Why do I rush through life, and ignore life’s nudges and invitations and calls for help? What is the hurry? What is important?
With any suicide, there are those left behind, to wonder, to feel, to regret, to ponder the couldas and wouldas and shouldas. I suppose it’s all perfect in some deep and mysterious way. But my heart aches and my mind toils and wonders and hopes: Did I finally get the lesson? Can I slow down and pay attention to dogs and to people and to life? Can I make the most of this precious, brief human experience?