In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day, I share this from the heart, something I wrote in 2015 out of love for an old friend…
Someone I love once told me, I am the Collector Of Broken Birds. She meant that I tend to bond with people who are in ownership of their pain, who have seen things in life that would leave others lost amidst the rubble. I knew what she meant. But I never looked at it that way. Instead, I saw it as an outgrowth of my understanding of pain, and my willingness to see it in others without shrinking away from it. Looking into the eyes of pain does not scare me, as it does so many other people. I don’t see it as contagious, or a sign of weakness. I see it for what it is, the remnant of survival. So, when some are fooled into believing that beautiful woman who is always smiling, is also the beholder of a perfect, pain and sorrow free existence, I am not so quick to be taken in by the smile worn across the battle scars. And for those of us who can see both the smile and the scars, without flinching, and also share a glimpse of our own scarring under the smile with that brave soul across from us, who also doesn’t flinch, that is a miraculous moment when it feels as though the universe, or god, is saying that it sees you, and loves you, no matter your imperfections and complications.
I met a woman who proved to be one of these rare souls, while I was in the throes of mommying my little trio of girls, and she was mommying her trio of one boy and two girls. She offered humor and irreverence and a kind welcome that doesn’t always come from a lifelong resident of a small community, towards a newbie interloper. But she never thought twice in making me feel welcomed and at home, without any of the once-over that can be used even by adult women in their leftover from middle school dynamics. After awhile of knowing one another, we chatted one day about a film I was blown away by, Searching For Angela Shelton, where 70% of the filmmaker’s namesakes she discovers in her travels across the US, share the same unfortunate background of being survivors of rape, sexual abuse, or domestic violence. But before I could get the name of the film out, she finished my sentence for me, sharing that she’d been blown away by the honesty and rawness and bravery of the film, as well. We each shared our connection to the film from our respective personal lives, and joked that we would forever be “Angela Shelton Sisters.” After that, we kept in contact with each other, and relished the honesty we could put forth with each other, facts we wouldn’t share freely with many others, not because of shame, but because not everyone could be expected to look into the eyes of broken birds, and still be able to see the bird, without only focusing upon the broken bits. This woman became my friend. And in doing so, she fortified my vision of myself as a member of an army of women who were strong enough to buck family secrets, and societal victim blaming, without crumbling under the burden of The Past, in order to build our lives with depth and love and humor and strength.
This week, she drove to a quiet spot, one she’d probably driven past a million times, on her way to take kids to activities, or running errands in surrounding communities, or even as a teenager, while looking for the perfect, secret drinking and make-out spot. But last Saturday, she navigated her way there for her own private reasons. Some of those, I know from our conversations, were most-likely the remnants of the shadows of what made her a beautiful, broken bird. She acted in the here and now, but the reasoning was put into play during those early years, when carefree, sun-dappled moments were darkened with unthinkable violation and betrayals of the highest order. When someone loses a limb, there can be excruciating moments of phantom pain, even though there is nothing there, to the naked eye. Today, as I think of my friend, I’m reminded that the scars we carry bring their own phantom pain. And, sometimes, that phantom pain is enough to move us to cut it off at its source, and life has to end in order to bring us the relief that living could not grant us. I pray that wherever she might be, she finds the laughter and love and kindness and beauty that she shared with the rest of us while she was here, along with finally reaching her own little patch of sun where what made her broken is forever vanished with the first shimmer of her ever after.