Saturday, August 25, 2012

The First Week of School

The first week of school is in the books.  It was awesome, and I definitely feel like I am in a good place.  A few interesting things happened:

1.  A student asked if I fought on the U.S. side in Afghanistan...Really!!
2.  I almost trampled a sixth grader turning a corner.
3.  A student told me that the class was quiet durring a fire drill because they were scared of what I might do if they embarrassed me.
4.  I made 3 students cry; one because he got a zero on a quiz for talking, one because she didn't have her book and I refused to hear the excuse, and one because she got detention for being late 3 days in a row.
5.  I was truly impressed by the effort of both the most overweight and the shortest boys to try out for flag football...they both made the team.
6.  One of last years "problem kids" has not been tardy since day 1 after I talked to him.
7.  An annoying parent had no idea how to respond to my niceness.
8.  I established that homework will be given almost every weekend, and quieted their complaints with a look.
9.  I have used a quarter of a tank of gas in a whole week!!!
10.  A group of students explained to me that I am confusing because I am so nice and so mean at the same time...

This is going to be a fun year..

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life is Worth Living...& Worth Saving

I had a different idea in mind for this blog entry, but a grim reality has surfaced around me several times over the last few weeks.  I have instead felt compelled to brush off an old piece that I never completed, and allow it to fully come together with a song in order to touch on the subject. 
Suicide is a topic about which I have learned a great deal over the second half of my life.  As a soldier the Army constantly gave discussions, and classes on it.  Medical doctors and nurses even went so far as to ask questions on it durring each visit.  While beginning my college career, which initially was for a degree in counseling, I had several class discussions and readings on the subject.  Additionally, while in college I would randomly find myself reading the solemn news that a fellow student had decided that they no longer had a desire to live. Then the most shocking lesson came while I was playing Semi-Pro football in Upstate New York, when I got a call late one night from my coach informing me that one of my teammates had taken his life.  It is not my goal to stir up emotions, or to use this or the current stories as a way to promote myself, but instead to try and have their lives serve as examples to help others.  I will not mention names in this piece, or even get into details of any particular event.  My goal instead is to focus on two primary topics; the ideas that lead to suicide, and ways to identify individuals with those ideas so that we may help them.  Lastly I will link the concept with our lives and pose a challenge.

Inside the Mind of One Without Hope & Purpose:

While waiting, and thinking, in the funeral home's adjoining room for the viewing to begin a few poetic lines abruptly came to me:

"If you don't know where you are, can you reach the other side?
Is it really suicide if you're no longer alive?"

Those lines have stayed with me ever since, and last year I found the inspiration to write a poem, which later became a song on the topic of suicide using those lines as the foundation.  The song, "Say Goodbye" can be found below this entry, however I urge you to finish reading first.  My goal in the song was to enter the mind of a person who has been on a road that leads them to a point where they are left feeling no hope or sense of purpose.  I believe it is the combined absence of these two important life elements that results in a person taking their own life.  

People can lose hope and purpose in many ways, but I feel strongly that it is a long road to get to that point.  It is for that reason that I chose the setting of the song to be a car on an endless road.  Along the song's 'road' I attempted to touch on many of the ways in which one may lose the desire to live:
Past mistakes, lost sense of direction, inability to identify or maintain a plan for life, dark times,  loneliness, loss of motivation/energy to push through, feeling stuck, loss of a relationship, inability to live up to a perceived standard, and a feeling that no one could handle the truth about their situation, among others. 
The biggest lesson that I pulled from the experience of writing this song, and reconsidering the topic for this piece is that even I, and I am sure most others, feel some level of helplessness from time to time.  Some of these exact thoughts even creep into our minds, though they hopefully never develop to the point we consider that it may be easier to be dead than alive.  It is necessary for us to identify and become aware of these types of thoughts, the ones that we have had, and the ones that others may have, in order to be able to help, or seek help when it is needed.  Every person that could have or did have direct contact with a person that committed suicide has one question following them: "Could I have prevented this from happening?"

It is possible that we could have been the one to say what was needed, but it is unfair to blame yourself for something that is so far removed from yourself, especially when you are living your own life as well.  It is not your fault!

Helping our Brothers & Sisters:

In order to possibly save a life and prevent that burdon from jumping on your shoulders, it is important to be aware of those around you, and not be afraid to lend a helping hand.  It is almost always a shock when someone takes their life, so never assume that the people close to you couldn't or wouldn't do it, and be there for your brothers and sisters.  

Let me say first of all that I am not an expert, but I dont think one needs to be in order to help a friend. Chances are, there will be no manual around when you are needed to intervene. So after thinking through the process on my own, I have come up with four steps that are necessary in helping a suicidal person: Observing, Questioning, Watching, and Intervening.

Observing - This is something we should be doing at all times.  Identifying people who are displaying some of the traits mentioned above and generally being aware.  The traits that lead you to believe that a person may be approaching a point where they are losing hope and a sense of purpose are the ones to watch for.

Questioning - By performing this step, two purposes are being served.  A better understanding of the severity of the situation can be gauged, while intervention is also possible.  Simple questions, that would be conversational in nature such as, "How are you dealing with..." or "Is .... bothering you".  Ask if they want to talk about it, and if suicidal signs are strong simply ask, "Are you considering hurting yourself?" "Do you have the ability to do so?"  

Watching - Wether questioning was a positive or negative experience watch the person, and ensure that you are in a position to intervene if necessary. 

Intervening - When you are sure someone is suicidal call the authorities, take them to get help, and/or remain by their side as a confidant.  Be the person to help them through this dark time, as life is definitely worth saving.  

Why is Life Worth Living & Saving

Everyone will have their own answers for this question.  I live my life as a person who seeks knowledge, but I do so with an understanding that some of the most grand questions have no definitive answer.  Because of this I would never say that someone is absolutely wrong in their beliefs.  Additionally, because of the public nature of my work I wouldn't make blanket statements about my personal beliefs.  I will say the following, which is true regardless of beliefs:

Life is a magical experience.  It absolutely is filled with ups and downs, but a helping attitude, positive outlook, and loving nature goes a long way to send the ups very high, while keeping the lows at bay.  The joy that one gets from unconditional love, the delight of true appreciation, and the vitality that comes with knowing tomorrow will be greater are all feelings that make life worth living.   We are all capable of bringing greatness not only to our own lives, but also to the lives of others, and we should strive to do so with all of our energy.  When reading this last paragraph I intend for some to look inside themselves and ask how alive they truly are.

Are You Alive?

The reason I find the last question of my song, which was one of the first lines to come to me, to be so relevant on this topic is that it actually states the true reason suicide is a common occurrence around us.  The line again asks:

"Is it really suicide if you're no longer alive?"

You see suicide is committed while breathing, and most continue to breath despite having committed suicide.  Some rise from the dead, while others unfortunately do not. Most of us are strong enough to bring ourselves to a certain level of consciousness, though I would argue that a dull heartbeat is only slightly better than none at all. (Give me a chance to explain)  

My idea behind SKOOL is to help people embrace the best that life has to offer through knowledge and understanding.  This is different for each of us, but regardless of the specific field, interest, or pursuit of a person, the true essence of life can be manifested through anything that comes from within a Loving, Positive, and Helping spirit.  Not living with these spirits is just as good as committing suicide, for you are not truly alive if your life is filled with the opposite of each: A Hating, Negative, and Hurtful spirt.

Our brethren have not taken their lives, their lives were lost to a hidden and overwhelming swirl of darkness.  In the memory of all that have lost their lives to the power of hopelessness and loss of purpose lets all commit to living a life of Love, Positivity, and Helpfulness.  

Lets commit to Loving our brothers and sisters enough to be a Positive influence in their lives, and Help them by identifying their need and assisting in getting through the hard times.  Lets commit to doing this regardless of any disagreements or aversion we have with their lifestyle, looks, financial status, past discretions, or beliefs.  Lets do it because ALL life is worth living...and worth saving.

The song below is my attempt to understand a suicidal persons thoughts.  If you know someone who feels like this I hope you will be there to lend a hand, and help them to see that life is truly worth living. 
Say Goodbye - SKOOL
Seek Knowledge Or Only Lose