Another George

This was written August 1st, while I was in Colorado (well behind on my blogs, obviously, since the previous one was for July 17.)

I planned to write some more blogs about my trip today, and probably still will. But just now I was scanning the MySpace bulletins looking for one in particular and saw one I did not want to see.

Let me back up a bit.

On June 28, I got a MySpace message from a guy named George (not related to the homeless guy named George I took to lunch).

He wrote:

I am about to read your story but I wanted to tell you I think about suicide. So many people I have known or known of have done it. My dads best friend, two of my uncles and my brothers friend. Also, a guy I knew when I was in the army did it. So you see I am not easily persuaded by the arguments most people offer against it. I know the facts and have lived through the aftermath first hand. I don't have many real life friends I feel close to but you see my friend list at 70. What does that all mean? Nothing. I'm ashamed of myself is what it comes down to. I'm on antidepressants. But who isn't. I went my whole life without doing a single drug just to go to my doctor who I refer colloquially to as my pusher. So what stops me then? When does the depression end?

The "story" he's referring to is called Sadness Breeds, and it is a piece I wrote when finally dealing with my mother's suicide. She died when I was nine and I wrote it when I was in my early thirties. I link to it once in a while, most recently on my I'm A Tool! blog. (If you want to read that blog, click the link; or you can find Sadness Breeds at my website or download it as a .pdf document.)

I didn't get the message until later that night, while I was working. I sent George a long response (of course):

George, I am so glad you reached out to me...and I am thankful that you are taking the time to read what I wrote.

I did not have the Lord in my life when I chose not to take my life when I was 25. I was ready to, and wanted to, but decided to wait for just a little while. I began to realize in the wake of that that there were things in life worth living for. My friends, my family, things I had not done, places I hadn't been...even breaths I hadn't taken.

Depression is the enemy of awareness, George. It clouds our vision and narrows our perspectives, and makes all of our experiences dull. As you well know, when we are depressed it's hard to have the perspective that there IS joy to be found in life. It's VERY hard to see, but it's there. When we're depressed, NOTHING sounds good...we're always bored, there is little that can interest us. I'm not lecturing you...I say this so you know I can relate. I don't know what you've been through, and probably cannot compare my pain and experiences to yours. I wouldn't dare. But in our pain we can find a place to meet, a common place of shared misery.

Now, I have an even greater perspective...because I realize that I have a great Hope in Christ...that I live to serve the Lord and find real Joy in every breath, and every opportunity I get to remain here in this life serving Him. I realize that may not comfort you. I can admit that there are times I am extremely frustrated with this world, and sometimes look forward to the next life, the eternal life, with great expectation. But I know that to take my own life is an insult to the gift that He's given me. How can I worship Him, how can I be of service to Him (by serving others) if I remove myself from this life and His Will by my own hand at my own time? How can I accept the greatest gift ever, the gift of the cross and what Our Savior did for us, losing HIS life, laying it down for can I accept that into my heart and love Him for it, yet take myself out? Part of the point is that I have already surrendered my life to Him, and I allow Him to control it. There are VERY tough times involved in that, but I have the promise of a much better life after this one. And in surrendering my will and life to Him and His teachings, I know that surrender is a big part of what keeps me alive. There's irony in that. :)

I too am often ashamed of myself...things I've done in my past, dark secrets few people know. But I know that my Lord can take that burden from me. And whatever shame I may feel is just residue of a life I have left behind while I continue to live this one. And there's no comparison.

Even though suicide has haunted me my entire life because of my mother's choice, I have a choice myself. And I choose life, and whatever comes with it. I have less frequent bouts with depression, they are now very infrequent...but when they do come, I have the perspective that they are spiritual attacks...and I have the armor and weapons to combat them and not wallow in them. I used to be a melancholy person, and now I'm not...there are many people who know me now that are shocked that I was ever like that. So I can tell you...there is LIFE after the decision to remain living.

Maybe those preliminary thoughts are similar to what you've already heard...maybe not.

I am sitting here at work typing this to you, on my last night as a producer for The David Stein Show, "A Celebration Of Life Through Sports" on Sporting News Radio. It is a positive sports show, where our listeners (our friends of the show) share their experiences...many of them used to be angry people...or hopeless people...and listening to the show and bonding with others on the show has helped them. A few tonight have even expressed that the show has helped to save their lives. Not exaggerating, a guy called tonight and was in prison and listened to the show and it kept him going.

I mentioned earlier about shared misery, similar experiences. I am a fan of the TV show The West Wing. In one episode, one character relates a sort of parable to express his support for his friend:

"This guy's walking down a street, when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep, he can't get out. A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up "Hey you! Can you help me out?" The doctor writes him a prescription, throws it down the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up "Father, I'm down in this hole, can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. "Hey Joe, it's me, can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole! Our guy says "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here!" and the friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before, and I know the way out."

I know the way out that I took. Maybe I can share that with you some more. Maybe I can at least help. I would like to.

I would like very much to discuss your story and know more about your situation. Why have you lost hope? What events have brought you to this? If you are willing to share them with me, that is. I hope and pray that you will.

I look forward to hearing from you, George.

...and I know he read it, but I never heard back from him. I sent him a Friend Request and he approved it, but I still never heard from him. I commented his page, and got no response, though I know he was still around. Checking out his page, he seemed to be in his early thirties.

I don't know what things George had done in his past, or what demons persecuted him, but I do know he was haunted by certain images, which explains some of the things he wrote in his blog, like this on July 6:

I get the distinct pleasure of reliving the same nightmares almost every night. I take sleeping pills to help me get to sleep. It's been a long time since I have slept a good night through. I think I'll survive but the dreams get weirder and weirder but have the same theme. I'm not going to tell about them I keep them to myself until the end day. The end day will be a sweet mercy for me and I don't fear it. Whatever, I'm dosing off now. If I see ya in my nightmares say hello.

I wish I would have subscribed or checked in his blog more often...because on July 26, he wrote about thinking of going to church, but he was rather offended by the way some churches collect the 'offering' from their members.

I am thinking of going to a church or maybe something else. I heard it's good to sooth the conscience. I don't necessarily have a guilty mind for the things I've done but some images just never go away. I find regular services boring but I cant find a service that targets the younger crowd either. I am to old for youth (23) and to young for the regular services. When I lived in Dallas I went to a chapel and it was laid back and I liked it. Churches here just seem to want your money or some other alternative is going on. They can have the money I don't care. One church I know of sends there parishioners an offering reminder envelope. Talk about pressure.

I wish I would have seen that and responded to it. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered, but I would have liked to reach out to him again. George had attended TMI, the Texas Military Institute in San Antonio, which was a private prep school for grade 6-12, and he was in the ROTC. George seemed to have a fascination with the military, but I don't know if he ever served. (Edit: Yes, he did, stupid. He told you in his first email that he served in the Army.)

When I was going through the bulletins today, I saw one from George called "Goodbye MySpace." My heart sank as I clicked to read it. I checked his page and saw a similar blog titled "The End."

The end of the line. Good bye my-space "friends". I will say it's been a big waste of time to come here and think I would reach out and be excepted [sic]. Why would the web be different than the world? I've lived my life and I've lived it well but now I'm going to the next level. I will not miss this realm of disappointment and I will not fear the next level. Nope this is the last you'll hear from me so good riddance. Except for the select few: Joy, Rich, Chris I hope the aforementioned forgive me and carry on with happy lives. Sincerly, G. Banks

I just went to George's page and posted a comment, asking him to contact me, just in case. His last login showed two days ago 7/30/07.

I checked George's page again, and saw that he worked for Stewart & Stevenson, and called them, but they didn't have anyone named George Banks working there. Maybe it's an alias he uses (I Googled it and found a story about a mass murderer from the 80's. Creepy.) I followed up by contacting another company that he might work for based on a division indication on his page. Nothing.

I checked the obituaries and death notices for Houston and Dallas and couldn't find anything. Perhaps he's not dead, perhaps he simply left MySpace. Or perhaps his body has not yet been found. I've spent the last 3 hours alternating between typing this and searching the web for information. I've got to let go.

I know I can't feel responsible. If he's gone, George made his own decision. I know I did what I could (and in saying that, I know I'm not rationalizing or defending how much or how little I tried to reach out to him), but in such situations, we're always left with the feeling that we could have done more, even if we had still been ignored the whole way. For some reason, the fact that he acknowledged me in what appears to be his final goodbye means that he appreciated my reaching out. But it doesn't seem to have made much of a difference.

I meant to write a blog about him mere days after he contacted me and I responded, but I didn't. Now I think I should have, perhaps I could have linked to his page and had more people pray for him, or rally to him with friend requests and messages to not give up. Who knows if it would have made a difference, but I wish I would have thought of that then. Maybe I still should, just in case he checks back into MySpace and sees all that activity on his page. What do you think? Or am I being naïve in holding out such hope?

I know George's actions are not in my hands, and that the Lord is sovereign in these matters, in ALL matters. But I can't shake the feeling that George was somehow put onto my radar, that perhaps somehow I was supposed to do more to shepherd him through this...and I failed.

I'm not beating myself up about it. But the mystery of not knowing eats at me some. If I hear from him, I'll make sure to let you know.

Here are the comments that were posted on my blog regarding this:

Posted by Mark Lee on Aug 1, 2007 11:53 AM

I rummaged around in your friends list and surfed on over to George's profile. There would be some good clues there for local people to work with, but it's hard to do much from such a great distance. I hope George can find some peace wherever he is.

Posted by Rich Fry on Aug 1, 2007 8:53 PM

Yes, I did my best detective work and deductive reasoning from bits of info on his page. (Even though I totally missed the fact that he was in the Army when he told me so in his first email.) Yet I was still not certain in which area he least, not certain enough to call that local police department and ask about him.

Posted by Rich Fry on Aug 3, 2007 11:32 AM

Well...the only update I have is that it seems George returned to MySpace the next day and deleted his profile. Either he's gone from MySpace or gone from this life. Perhaps it was a scam (tho it really didn't seem to be), perhaps it was his way of crying out for attention. Either way, I'm leaving it in the hands of God.

Posted by Christi on Aug 1, 2007 12:29 PM

You did everything you could my friend, and more. Your words to him were beautiful, touching, and not over the top. I would feel the same way, the mystery of it would drive me nuts. Don't give up hope, keep checking back. If you do hear from him, I know of another blog site, postsecret, that has suicide hotline links. Please keep us posted, and I wish George peace, wherever he is.

Posted by DenovoMo on Aug 2, 2007 7:16 AM

wow- I think what you did was offer hope. Offer. No one can be forced to take any directive. It's the beauty of being human in a free world.

Second guessing ourselves is crazy-making. And you have done your best in an obviously painful situation. I don't know how people who choose to stay unattached from God get out of bed every morning.

Posted by Catherine on Aug 3, 2007 12:51 PM

God does bring people into our lives for a reason...George found you and your story brought him something he hadn't seen before hope and a promise of a brighter day. Now whether he is gone or not is in God's hands, but George should know that through his heartache and your story guys are actually together touching other peoples lives! Thats the kind of God we serve!! You did extend your hand and heart to him and I believe he saw the sincerity in that.....don't beat yourself up over things that are out of your control.

Posted by Rich Fry on Aug 3, 2007 6:23 PM

Thanks, Cat.

Just to be clear, I'm not beating myself up about it. George made his decision and I didn't (and don't) weep for him. Yes, I am sad that he saw things that way, I am sad for him that he did not trust God.

I just wanted to go the extra mile trying to find him since I didn't really go the extra mile beforehand.