In the stillness of the night
LAST week, I was invited to deliver the keynote address at the I Pinangon Suicide Prevention Forum held at the University of Guam.
He was the best and brightest among us. He was the one that we all followed. He was the one that teachers thought would go the furthest. And among that group there was a U.S. congressman, directors and myself. But as children and as young adults, he was the one that we always looked up to â we wondered, âWhat was he going to do? How was he going to resolve the situation? What were his thoughts?â We saw something that he did not see. We saw changes that occurred that he could not see. And, in the end, he was the first one to leave, and the only one to leave by his own hands. He was my cousin, he was my brother, my friend and like stillness in the night, I still mourn his loss. And I still ask myself, âWhy? What did we miss?â
Some of you will remember in the 1980s a song called âSigns.â Signs, signs, signs. Everywhere there are signs. Do this, donât do that, canât you read the sign? Come in, kneel and pray. The lyrics remind me that âsignsâ are important. Suicide doesnât happen in a vacuum. Suicide, and people whose lives are touched by it, happens with all these signs out there. I believe we just need to focus ourselves, re-orientate our thinking about suicide and look for those signs. The responsibility must be built within us, so that we are better able to care for our brother, better able to care for our friend. We commit to not rush past them as they deal with life as we deal with life ourselves. We commit to look out for those signs.
The loss from suicide is experienced at the family level, but that loss also touches the community. When we take notice of the signs, we know to some extent what we are looking for â there are studies available and there are experiences we have heard about. Wanting to harm oneself, being trapped in unbearable pain, anxiousness, agitation, behaving recklessly, feeling isolated, disconnected, disjointed â any and all of these experiences can be internalized, and when a person cannot express or externalize them, then the likelihood of suicide is possible. If that person cannot make a connection to someone next to him or her, to some family member, to some friend to reach out and open up to, then we continue to have our work cut out for us. But the audience that night was proof to me that we are making strides in recognizing that suicide is a community problem, that it is not isolated, that it is not the act of one single person and it not only affects one person.
To me, the success of the forum is in its reach beyond academics, beyond theory and to see the work of these young leaders in our community. I believe we can say that there was more than hope communicated through the forum â that there is the realization and manifestation of that hope through each of our actions as we deal with this issue in our community. Our responsibility in addressing suicide as individuals is not separate from the self-responsibility we have as a community to look for the signs and provide resolve at all different levels, including individual, nuclear family, organizational and even the policy level. As I see it, the beauty of government is at work when you take a policy and you feed it through the system and, in turn, the system changes because of that policy. Such a policy has the potential to change the consciousness, change the awareness, and change peopleâs perceptions and their attitudes. The forum, in a true sense, was an awakening. It gave all of us there a chance to witness and make the connections needed to address preventative measures encompassing suicide, and to recognize that the academics, the theories, the policies and the people are all at work to provide balance within our community. Continue reading »